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FLUSH 

A BIOGRAPHY 



By Virginia Woolf 
Fiction 


The Voyage Out 
Night and Day 
Jacob’s Room 
Mrs. Dalloway 
To the Lighthouse 
Orlando 
The Waves 


Criticism , etc. 

The Mark on the Wall 
Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown 
A Room of One’s Own 
The Common Reader (First Series) 
The Common Reader (Second Series) 
Kew Gardens 

A Letter to a Young Poet 




I'routispieci 



FLUSH 

A BIOGRAPHY 

Virginia Woolf 



PUBLISHED BY LEONARD AND VIRGINIA WOOLF AT THE 
HOGARTH PRESS, 52 TAVISTOCK SQUARE, LONDON, W.G. 

1933 



First publishedOctober 1933 
New Edition, November 1933 


Punted in Gieat Britain by R. & R. Clark, Limited, Edinbuigh± 



CONTENTS 


PAGE 


CHAPTER 

I. Three Mile Cross . . .7 

II. The Back Bedroom . . .28 

III. The Hooded Man . . 45 

IV. Whitechapel . .72 

V. Italy . .102 

VI. The End . -136 

Authorities . . 151 

Notes . . .152 


ILLUSTRATIONS 

'Frontispiece . . . Facing title 

Miss Mitford . . Facing page 16 

Mrs. Browning . . „ „ 80 

End-Papers, designed by Vanessa Bell. 


v 





FLUSH 


CHAPTER I 

THREE MILE CROSS 

It is universally admitted that the family from 
which the subject of this memoir claims descent is 
one of the greatest antiquity. Therefore it is not 
strange that the origin of the name itself is lost in 
obscurity. Many million years ago the country 
which is now called Spain seethed uneasily in the 
ferment of creation. Ages passed; vegetation ap¬ 
peared; where there is vegetation the law of Nature 
has decreed that there shall be rabbits; where there 
are rabbits, Providence has ordained there shall be 
dogs. There is nothing in this that calls for question 
or comment. But when we ask why the dog that 
caught the rabbit was called a Spaniel, then doubts 
and difficulties begin. Some historians say that 
when the Carthaginians landed in Spain the com¬ 
mon soldiers shouted with one accord “Span! 
Span! 55 —for rabbits darted from every scrub, from 


7 



8 


FLUSH 


every bush. The land was alive with rabbits. And 
Span in the Carthaginian tongue signifies Rabbit. 
Thus the land was called Hispania, or Rabbit-land, 
and the dogs, which were almost instantly per¬ 
ceived in full pursuit of the rabbits, were called 
Spaniels or rabbit dogs. 

There many of us would be content to let the 
matter rest; but truth compels us to add that there 
is another school of thought which thinks differ¬ 
ently. The word Hispania, these scholars say, has 
nothing whatever to do with the Carthaginian word 
span. Hispania derives from the Basque word 
espana , signifying an edge or boundary. If that is so, 
rabbits, bushes, dogs, soldiers—the whole of that 
romantic and pleasant picture, must be dismissed 
from the mind; and we must simply suppose that 
the Spaniel is called a spaniel because Spain is 
called Espana. As for the third school of antiquaries 
which maintains that just as a lover calls his mistress 
monster or monkey, so the Spaniards called their 
favourite dogs crooked or cragged (the word espana 
can be made to take these meanings) because a 
spaniel is notoriously the opposite—that is too fanci¬ 
ful a conjecture to be seriously entertained. 

Passing over these theories, and many more which 
need not detain us here, we reach Wales in the 



THREE MILE CROSS 


9 


middle of the tenth century. The spaniel is already 
there, brought, some say, by the Spanish clan of 
Ebhor or Ivor many centuries previously; and cer¬ 
tainly by the middle of the tenth century a dog of 
high repute and value. “The Spaniel of the King is 
a pound in value, 55 Howel Dha laid it down in his 
Book of Laws. And when we remember what the 
pound could buy in the year a.d. 948—how many 
wives, slaves, horses, oxen, turkeys and geese—it is 
plain that the spaniel was already a dog of value and 
reputation. He had his place already by the King’s 
side. His family was held in honour before those of 
many famous monarchs. He was taking his ease in 
palaces when the Plantagenets and the Tudors and 
the Stuarts were following other people’s ploughs 
through other people’s mud. Long before the 
Howards, the Cavendishes or the Russells had risen 
above the common ruck of Smiths, Joneses and 
Tomkins, the spaniel family was a family dis¬ 
tinguished and apart. And as the centuries took 
their way, minor branches broke off from the parent 
stem. By degrees, as English history pursues its 
course, there came into existence at least seven 
famous Spaniel families—the Clumber, the Sussex, 
the Norfolk, the Black Field, the Cocker, the Irish 
Water and the English Water, all deriving from the 



10 


FLUSH 


original spaniel of prehistoric days but showing dis¬ 
tinct characteristics, and therefore no doubt claim¬ 
ing privileges as distinct. That there was an aristo¬ 
cracy of dogs by the time Queen Elizabeth was on 
the throne Sir Philip Sidney bears witness: .. grey¬ 
hounds, Spaniels and Hounds”, he observes, c ‘where¬ 
of the first might seem the Lords, the second the 
Gentlemen, and the last the Yeomen of dogs”, he 
writes in the Arcadia. 

But if we are thus led to assume that the Spaniels 
followed human example, and looked up to Grey¬ 
hounds as their superiors and considered Hounds 
beneath them, we have to admit that their aristo¬ 
cracy was founded on better reasons than ours. Such 
at least must be the conclusion of anyone who 
studies the laws of the Spaniel Club. By that august 
body it is plainly laid down what constitute the 
vices of a spaniel, and what constitute its virtues. 
Light eyes, for example, are undesirable; curled 
ears are still worse; to be born with a light nose or a 
topknot is nothing less than fatal. The merits of the 
spaniel are equally clearly defined. His head must 
be smooth, rising without a too-decided stoop from 
the muzzle; the skull must be comparatively 
rounded and well developed with plenty of room for 
brain power; the eyes must be full but not gozzled; 



THREE MILE CROSS 


IX 


the general expression must be one of intelligence 
and gentleness. The spaniel that exhibits these 
points is encouraged and bred from; the spaniel 
who persists in perpetuating topknots and light 
noses is cut off from the privileges and emoluments 
of his kind. Thus the judges lay down the law and, 
laying down the law, impose penalties and privileges 
which ensure that the law shall be obeyed. 

But, if we now turn to human society, what chaos 
and confusion meet the eye! No Club has any such 
jurisdiction upon the breed of man. The Heralds 5 
College is the nearest approach we have to the 
Spaniel Club. It at least makes some attempt to 
preserve the purity of the human family. But when 
we ask what constitutes noble birth—should our 
eyes be light or dark, our ears curled or straight, are 
topknots fatal, our judges merely refer us to our 
coats of arms. You have none perhaps. Then you 
are nobody. But once make good your claim to 
sixteen quarterings, prove your right to a coronet, 
and then they say you are not only born, but 
nobly born into the bargain. Hence it is that not a 
muffineer in all Mayfair lacks its lion couchant or 
its mermaid rampant. Even our linendrapers mount 
the Royal Arms above their doors, as though that 
were proof that their sheets are safe to sleep in. 



12 


FLUSH 


Everywhere rank is claimed and its virtues are 
asserted. Yet when we come to survey the Royal 
Houses of Bourbon, Hapsburg and Hohenzollern, 
decorated with how many coronets and quarterings, 
couchant and rampant with how many lions and 
leopards, and find them now in exile, deposed from 
authority, judged unworthy of respect, we can but 
shake our heads and admit that the Judges of the 
Spaniel Club judged better. Such is the lesson that 
is enforced directly we turn from these high matters 
to consider the early life of Flush in the family of 
the Mitfords. 

About the end of the eighteenth century a family 
of the famous spaniel breed was living near Read¬ 
ing in the house of a certain Dr. Midford or Mit- 
ford. That gentleman, in conformity with the canons 
of the Heralds 5 College, chose to spell his name with a 
t, and thus claimed descent from the Northumber¬ 
land family of the Mitfords of Bertram Castle. His 
wife was a Miss Russell, and sprang, if remotely, 
still decidedly from the ducal house of Bedford. But 
the mating of Dr. Mitford’s ancestors had been car¬ 
ried on with such wanton disregard for principles 
that no bench of judges could have admitted his 
claim to be well bred or have allowed him to per¬ 
petuate his kind. His eyes were light; his ears were 



THREE MILE CROSS 


13 


curled; his head exhibited the fatal topknot. In 
other words, he was utterly selfish, recklessly ex¬ 
travagant, worldly, insincere and addicted to gam¬ 
bling. He wasted his own fortune, his wife’s fortune, 
and his daughter’s earnings. He deserted them in 
his prosperity and sponged upon them in his in¬ 
firmity. Two points he had in his favour indeed, 
great personal beauty—he was like an Apollo until 
gluttony and intemperance changed Apollo into 
Bacchus—and he was genuinely devoted to dogs. 
But there can be no doubt that, had there been a 
Man Club corresponding to the Spaniel Club in 
existence, no spelling of Mitford with a t instead of 
with a d, no calling cousins with the Mitfords of 
Bertram Castle, would have availed to protect him 
from contumely and contempt, from all the penal¬ 
ties of outlawry and ostracism, from being branded 
as a mongrel man unfitted to carry on his kind. But 
he was a human being. Nothing therefore prevented 
him from marrying a lady of birth and breeding, 
from living for over eighty years, from having in his 
possession several generations of greyhounds and 
spaniels and from begetting a daughter. 

All researches have failed to fix with any cer¬ 
tainty the exact year of Flush’s birth, let alone the 
month or the day; but it is likely that he was born 



14 


FLUSH 


some time early in the year 1842. It is also probable 
that he was directly descended from Tray (c. 1816), 
whose points, preserved unfortunately only in' the 
untrustworthy medium of poetry, prove him to have 
been a red cocker spaniel of merit. There is every 
reason to think that Flush was the son of that “real 
old cocking spaniel” for whom Dr. Mitford refused 
twenty guineas “on account of his excellence in the 
field”. It is to poetry, alas, that we have to trust for 
our most detailed description of Flush himself as a 
young dog. He was of that particular shade of dark 
brown which in sunshine flashes “all over into 
gold”. His eyes were “startled eyes of hazel bland”. 
His ears were “tasselled”; his “slender feet” were 
“canopied in fringes” and his tail was broad. 
Making allowance for the exigencies of rhyme and 
the inaccuracies of poetic diction, there is nothing 
here but what would meet with the approval of the 
Spaniel Club. We cannot doubt that Flush was a 
pure-bred Cocker of the red variety marked by all 
the characteristic excellences of his kind. 

The first months of his life were passed at Three 
Mile Cross, a working man’s cottage near Reading. 
Since the Mitfords had fallen on evil days—Keren- 
happock was the only servant—the chair-covers 
were made by Miss Mitford herself and of the 



THREE MILE GROSS 


*5 


cheapest material; the most important article of 
furniture seems to have been a large table; the most 
important room a large greenhouse—it is unlikely 
that Flush was surrounded by any of those luxuries, 
rain-proof kennels, cement walks, a maid or boy 
attached to his person, that would now be accorded 
a dog of his rank. But he throve; he enjoyed with all 
the vivacity of his temperament most of the pleas¬ 
ures and some of the licences natural to his youth 
and sex. Miss Mitford, it is true, was much confined 
to the cottage. She had to read aloud to her father 
hour after hour; then to play cribbage; then, when 
at last he slumbered, to write and write and write 
at the table in the greenhouse in the attempt to pay 
their bills and settle their debts. But at last the 
longed-for moment would come. She thrust her 
papers aside, clapped a hat on her head, took her 
umbrella and set off for a walk across the fields with 
her dogs. Spaniels are by nature sympathetic; 
Flush, as his story proves, had an even excessive 
appreciation of human emotions. The sight of his 
dear mistress snuffing the fresh air at last, letting it 
ruffle her white hair and redden the natural fresh¬ 
ness of her face, while the lines on her huge brow 
smoothed themselves out, excited him to gambols 
whose wildness was half sympathy with her own 



i6 


FLUSH 


delight. As she strode through the long grass, so he 
leapt hither and thither, parting its green curtain. 
The cool globes of dew or rain broke in showers of 
iridescent spray about his nose; the earth, here hard, 
here soft, here hot, here cold, stung, teased and 
tickled the soft pads of his feet. Then what a variety 
of smells interwoven in subdest combination thrilled 
his nostrils; strong smells of earth, sweet smells of 
flowers; nameless smells of leaf and bramble; sour 
smells as they crossed the road; pungent smells as 
they entered bean-fields. But suddenly down the 
wind came tearing a smell sharper, stronger, more 
lacerating than any—a smell that ripped across his 
brain stirring a thousand instincts, releasing a mil¬ 
lion memories—the smell of hare, the smell of fox. 
Off he flashed like a fish drawn in a rush through 
water further and further. He forgot his mistress; he 
forgot all human kind. He heard dark men cry 
“Span! Span!* 5 He heard whips crack. He raced; he 
rushed. At last he stopped bewildered; the incanta¬ 
tion faded; very slowly, wagging his tail sheepishly, 
he trotted back across the fields to where Miss Mit- 
ford stood shouting “Flush! Flush! Flush! 55 and 
waving her umbrella. And once at least the call was 
even more imperious; the hunting horn roused 
deeper instincts, summoned wilder and stronger 



MISS MITFORD 




THREE MILE CROSS I 7 


emotions that transcended memory and obliterated 
grass, trees, hare, rabbit, fox in one wild shout of 
ecstasy. Love blazed her torch in his eyes; he heard 
the hunting horn of Venus. Before he was well out 
of his puppyhood, Flush was a father. 

Such conduct in a man even, in the year 1842, 
would have called for some excuse from a bio¬ 
grapher; in a woman no excuse could have availed; 
her name must have been blotted in ignominy 
from the page. But the moral code of dogs, whether 
better or worse, is certainly different from ours, 
and there was nothing in Flush’s conduct in this 
respect that requires a veil now, or unfitted him 
for the society of the purest and the chastest in the 
land then. There is evidence, that is to say, that 
the elder brother of Dr. Pusey was anxious to buy 
him. Deducing from the known character of Dr. 
Pusey the probable character of his brother, there 
must have been something serious, solid, promis¬ 
ing well for future excellence whatever might be 
the levity of the present in Flush even as a puppy. 
But a much more significant testimony to the 
attractive nature of his gifts is that, even though 
Mr. Pusey wished to buy him, Miss Mitford refused 
to sell him. As she was at her wits’ end for money, 
scarcely knew indeed what tragedy to spin, what 

B 



i8 


FLUSH 


annual to edit, and was reduced to the repulsive 
expedient of asking her friends for help, it must 
have gone hard with her to refuse the sum offered 
by the elder brother of Dr. Pusey. Twenty pounds 
had been offered for Flush’s father. Miss Mitford 
might well have asked ten or fifteen for Flush. Ten 
or fifteen pounds was a princely sum, a magnificent 
sum to have at her disposal. With ten or fifteen 
pounds she might have re-covered her chairs, she 
might have re-stocked her greenhouse, she might 
have bought herself an entire wardrobe, and C£ I 
have not bought a bonnet, a cloak, a gown, hardly 
a pair of gloves”, she wrote in 1842, “for four years”. 

But to sell Flush was unthinkable. He was of the 
rare order of objects that cannot be associated with 
money. Was he not of the still rarer kind that, 
because they typify what is spiritual, what is beyond 
price, become a fitting token of the disinterested¬ 
ness of friendship; may be offered in that spirit 
to a friend, if one is lucky enough to have one, 
who is more like a daughter than a friend; to a 
friend who lies secluded all through the summer 
months in a back bedroom in Wimpole Street, to 
a friend who is no other than England’s foremost 
poetess, the brilliant, the doomed, the adored 
Elizabeth Barrett herself? Such were the thoughts 



THREE MILE CROSS 


19 


that came more and more frequently to Miss Mit- 
ford as she watched Flush rolling and scampering 
in the sunshine; as she sat by the couch of Miss 
Barrett in her dark, ivy-shaded London bedroom. 
Yes; Flush was worthy of Miss Barrett; Miss Barrett 
was worthy of Flush. The sacrifice was a great one; 
but the sacrifice must be made. Thus, one day, 
probably in the early summer of the year 1842, a 
remarkable couple might have been seen taking 
their way down Wimpole Street—a very short, 
stout, shabby, elderly lady, with a bright red face 
and bright white hair, who led by the chain a very 
spirited, very inquisitive, very well-bred golden 
cocker spaniel puppy. They walked almost the 
whole length of the street until at last they paused 
at No. 50. Not without trepidation, Miss Mitford 
rang the bell. 

Even now perhaps nobody rings the bell of a 
house in Wimpole Street without trepidation. It 
is the most august of London streets, the most 
impersonal. Indeed, when the world seems tumbling 
to ruin, and civilisation rocks on its foundations, one 
has only to go to Wimpole Street; to pace that 
avenue; to survey those houses; to consider their 
uniformity; to marvel at the window curtains and 
their consistency; to admire the brass knockers and 



20 


FLUSH 


their regularity; to observe butchers tendering 
joints and cooks receiving them; to reckon the 
incomes of the inhabitants and infer their con¬ 
sequent submission to the laws of God and man— 
one has only to go to Wimpole Street and drink 
deep of the peace breathed by authority in order 
to heave a sigh of thankfulness that, while Corinth 
has fallen and Messina has tumbled, while crowns 
have blown down the wind and old Empires have 
gone up in flames, Wimpole Street has remained 
unmoved, and, turning from Wimpole Street into 
Oxford Street, a prayer rises in the heart and bursts 
from the lips that not a brick of Wimpole Street may 
be re-pointed, not a curtain washed, not a butcher 
fail to tender or a cook to receive the sirloin, the 
haunch, the breast, the ribs of mutton and beef 
for ever and ever, for as long as Wimpole Street 
remains, civilisation is secure. 

The butlers of Wimpole Street move ponder¬ 
ously even to-day; in the summer of 1842 they were 
more deliberate still. The laws of livery were then 
more stringent; the ritual of the green baize apron 
for cleaning silver; of the striped waistcoat and 
swallow-tail black coat for opening the hall door, 
was more closely observed. It is likely then that 
Miss Mitford and Flush were kept waiting at least 



THREE MILE CROSS 


21 


three minutes and a half on the door-step. At last, 
however, the door of number fifty was flung wide; 
Miss Mitford and Flush were ushered in. Miss 
Mitford was a frequent visitor; there was nothing 
to surprise, though something to subdue her, in 
the sight of the Barrett family mansion. But the 
effect upon Flush must have been overwhelming 
in the extreme. Until this moment he had set foot 
in no house but the working man’s cottage at Three 
Mile Gross. The boards there were bare; the mats 
were frayed; the chairs were cheap. Here there was 
nothing bare, nothing frayed, nothing cheap—that 
Flush could see at a glance. Mr. Barrett, the owner, 
was a rich merchant; he had a large family of 
grown-up sons and daughters, and a retinue, pro¬ 
portionately large, of servants. His house was 
furnished in the fashion of the late ’thirties, with 
some tincture, no doubt, of that Eastern fantasy 
which had led him when he built a house in Shrop¬ 
shire to adorn it with the domes and crescents of 
Moorish architecture. Here in Wimpole Street such 
extravagance would not be allowed; but we may 
suppose that the high dark rooms were full of otto¬ 
mans and carved mahogany; tables were twisted; 
filigree ornaments stood upon them; daggers and 
swords hung upon wine-dark walls; curious objects 



22 


FLUSH 


brought from his East Indian property stood in 
recesses, and thick rich carpets clothed the floors. 

But as Flush trotted up behind Miss Mitford, 
who was behind the butler, he was more astonished 
by what he smelt than by what he saw. Up the 
funnel of the staircase came warm whiffs of joints 
roasting, of fowls basting, of soups simmering— 
ravishing almost as food itself to nostrils used to the 
meagre savour of Kerenhappock’s penurious fries 
and hashes. Mixing with the smell of food were 
further smells—smells of cedarwood and sandal¬ 
wood and mahogany; scents of male bodies and 
female bodies; of men servants and maid servants; 
of coats and trousers; of crinolines and mantles; 
of curtains of tapestry, of curtains of plush; of coal 
dust and fog; of wine and cigars. Each room as 
he passed it—dining-room, drawing-room, library, 
bedroom—wafted out its own contribution to the 
general stew; while, as he set down first one paw 
and then another, each was caressed and retained 
by the sensuality of rich pile carpets closing amor¬ 
ously over it. At length they reached a closed door 
at the back of the house. A gentle tap was given; 
gendy the door was opened. 

Miss Barrett’s bedroom—for such it was—must 
by all accounts have been dark. The light, normally 



three mile gross 


23 


obscured by a curtain of green damask, was in 
summer further dimmed by the ivy, the scarlet 
runners, the convolvuluses and the nasturtiums 
which grew in the window-box. At first Flush could 
distinguish nothing in the pale greenish gloom but 
five white globes glimmering mysteriously in mid¬ 
air. But again it was the smell of the room that 
overpowered him. Only a scholar who has de¬ 
scended step by step into a mausoleum and there 
finds himself in a crypt, crusted with fungus, 
slimy with mould, exuding sour smells of decay 
and antiquity, while half-obliterated marble busts 
gleam in mid-air and all is dimly seen by the light 
of the small swinging lamp which he holds, and 
dips and turns, glancing now here, now there— 
only the sensations of such an explorer into the 
buried vaults of a ruined city can compare with 
the riot of emotions that flooded Flush’s nerves as 
he stood for the first time in an invalid’s bedroom, 
in Wimpole Street, and smelt eau-de-Cologne. 

Very slowly, very dimly, with much sniffing and 
pawing, Flush by degrees distinguished the out¬ 
lines of several articles of furniture* That huge 
object by the window was perhaps a wardrobe. 
Next to it stood, conceivably, a chest of drawers. 
In the middle of the room swam up to the surface 



24 


FLUSH 


what seemed to be a table with a ring round it; and 
then the vague amorphous shapes of armchair and 
table emerged. But everything was disguised. On 
top of the wardrobe stood three white busts; the 
chest of drawers was surmounted by a bookcase; 
the bookcase was pasted over with crimson merino; 
the washing-table had a coronal of shelves upon it; 
on top of the shelves that were on top of the wash¬ 
ing-table stood two more busts. Nothing in the 
room was itself; everything was something else. 
Even the window-blind was not a simple muslin 
blind; it was a painted fabric with a design of 
castles and gateways and groves of trees, and there 
were several peasants taking a walk. Looking- 
glasses further distorted these already distorted 
objects so that there seemed to be ten busts of 
ten poets instead of five; four tables instead of two. 
And suddenly there was a more terrifying confusion 
still. Suddenly Flush saw staring back at him from 
a hole in the wall another dog with bright eyes 
flashing, and tongue lolling! He paused amazed. 
He advanced in awe. 

Thus advancing, thus withdrawing, Flush 
scarcely heard, save as the distant drone of wind 
among the tree-tops, the murmur and patter of 
voices talking. He pursued his investigations, 



THREE MILE GROSS 


25 


cautiously, nervously, as an explorer in a forest softly 
advances his foot, uncertain whether that shadow 
is a lion, or that root a cobra. At last, however, 
he was aware of huge objects in commotion over 
him; and, unstrung as he was by the experiences of 
the past hour, he hid himself, trembling, behind a 
screen. The voices ceased. A door shut. For one 
instant he paused, bewildered, unstrung. Then with 
a pounce as of clawed tigers memory fell upon him. 
He felt himself alone—deserted. He rushed to the 
door. It was shut. He pawed, he listened. He heard 
footsteps descending. He knew them for the familiar 
footsteps of his mistress. They stopped. But no—on 
they went, down they went. Miss Mitford was 
slowly, was heavily, was reluctantly descending the 
stairs. And as she went, as he heard her footsteps 
fade, panic seized upon him. Door after door shut 
in his face as Miss Mitford went downstairs; they 
shut on freedom; on fields; on hares; on grass; on his 
adored, his venerated mistress—on the dear old 
woman who had washed him and beaten him and 
fed him from her own plate when she had none too 
much to eat herself—on all he had known of happi¬ 
ness and love and human goodness! There! The 
front door slammed. He was alone. She had de¬ 
serted him. 



26 


FLUSH 


Then such a wave of despair and anguish over¬ 
whelmed him, the irrevocableness and implac¬ 
ability of fate so smote him, that he lifted up his 
head and howled aloud. A voice said fi ‘Flush”. He 
did not hear it. “Flush”, it repeated a second time. 
He started. He had thought himself alone. He 
turned. Was there something alive in the room with 
him? Was there something on the sofa? In the wild 
hope that this being, whatever it was, might open 
the door, that he might still rush after Miss Mitford 
and find her—that this was some game of hide-and- 
seek such as they used to play in the greenhouse at 
home—Flush darted to the sofa. 

“Oh, Flush!” said Miss Barrett. For the first time 
she looked him in the face. For the first time Flush 
looked at the lady lying on the sofa. 

Each was surprised. Heavy curls hung down on 
either side of Miss Barrett’s face; large bright eyes 
shone out; a large mouth smiled. Heavy ears hung 
down on either side of Flush’s face; his eyes, too, 
were large and bright: his mouth was wide. There 
was a likeness between them. As they gazed at each 
other each felt: Here am I—and then each felt: But 
how different! Hers was the pale worn face of an 
invalid, cut off from air, light, freedom. His was the 
warm ruddy face of a young animal; instinct with 



THREE MILE GROSS 


27 


health and energy. Broken asunder, yet made in the 
same mould, could it be that each completed what 
was dormant in the other? She might have been— 
all that; and he— But no. Between them lay the 
widest gulf that can separate one being from 
another. She spoke. He was dumb. She was woman; 
he was dog. Thus closely united, thus immensely 
divided, they gazed at each other. Then with one 
bound Flush sprang on to the sofa and laid himself 
where he was to lie for ever after—on the rug at 
Miss Barrett’s feet. 



CHAPTER II 


THE BACK BEDROOM 

The summer of 1842 was, historians tell us, not 
much different from other summers, yet to Flush it 
was so different that he must have doubted if the 
world itself were the same. It was a summer spent 
in a bedroom; a summer spent with Miss Barrett. 
It was a summer spent in London, spent in the 
heart of civilisation. At first he saw nothing but the 
bedroom and its furniture, but that alone was sur¬ 
prising enough. To identify, distinguish and call by 
their right names all the different articles he saw 
there was confusing enough. And he had scarcely 
accustomed himself to the tables, to the busts, to the 
washing-stands—the smell of eau-de-Cologne still 
affected his nostrils disagreeably, when there came 
one of those rare days which are fine but not windy, 
warm but not baking, dry but not dusty, when an 
invalid can take the air. The day came when Miss 
Barrett could safely risk the huge adventure of 
going shopping with her sister. 

28 



THE BACK BEDROOM 


29 


The carriage was ordered; Miss Barrett rose from 
her sofa; veiled and muffled, she descended the 
stairs. Flush of course went with her. He leapt into 
the carriage by her side. Couched on her lap, the 
whole pomp of London at its most splendid burst 
on his astonished eyes. They drove along Oxford 
Street. He saw houses made almost entirely of glass. 
He saw windows laced across with glittering 
streamers; heaped with gleaming mounds of pink, 
purple, yellow, rose. The carriage stopped. He 
entered mysterious arcades filmed with clouds and 
webs of tinted gauze. A million airs from China, 
from Arabia, wafted their frail incense into the 
remotest fibres of his senses. Swiftly over the 
counters flashed yards of gleaming silk; more darkly, 
more slowly rolled the ponderous bombazine. 
Scissors snipped; coins sparkled. Paper was folded; 
string tied. What with nodding plumes, waving 
streamers, tossing horses, yellow liveries, passing 
faces, leaping, dancing up, down, Flush, satiated 
with the multiplicity of his sensations, slept, 
drowsed, dreamt and knew no more until he was 
lifted out of the carriage and the door of Wimpole 
Street shut on him again. 

And next day, as the fine weather continued, Miss 
Barrett ventured upon an even more daring exploit 



3^ 


FLUSH 


—she had herself drawn up Wimpole Street in a 
bath-chair. Again Flush went with her. For the first 
time he heard his nails click upon the hard paving- 
stones of London. For the first time the whole bat¬ 
tery of a London street on a hot summer’s day 
assaulted his nostrils. He smelt the swooning smells 
that lie in the gutters; the bitter smells that corrode 
iron railings; the fuming, heady smells that rise 
from basements—smells more complex, corrupt, 
violently contrasted and compounded than any he 
had smelt in the fields near Reading; smells that lay 
far beyond the range of the human nose; so that while 
the chair went on, he stopped, amazed; defining, 
savouring, until a jerk at his collar dragged him on. 
And also, as he trotted up Wimpole Street behind 
Miss Barrett’s chair he was dazed by the passage of 

human bodies. Petticoats swishedathis head; trousers 

brushed his flanks; sometimes a wheel whizzed an 
inch from his nose; the wind of destruction roared 
in his ears and fanned the feathers of his paws as a 
van passed. Then he plunged in terror. Mercifully 
the chain tugged at his collar; Miss Barrett held 
him tight, or he would have rushed to destruction. 

At last, with every nerve throbbing and every 
sense singing, he reached Regent’s Park. And then 
when he saw once more, after years of absence it 



THE BACK BEDROOM 


31 


seemed, grass, flowers and trees, the old hunting cry 
of the fields hallooed in his ears and he dashed for¬ 
ward to run as he had run in the fields at home. 
But now a heavy weight jerked at his throat; he was 
thrown back on his haunches. Were there not trees 
and grass? he asked. Were these not the signals 
of freedom? Had he not always leapt forward 
direcdy Miss Mitford started on her walk? Why was 
he a prisoner here? He paused. Here, he observed, 
the flowers were massed far more thickly than at 
home; they stood, plant by plant, rigidly in narrow 
plots. The plots were intersected by hard black 
paths. Men in shiny top-hats marched ominously 
up and down the paths. At the sight of them he 
shuddered closer to the chair. He gladly accepted 
the protection of the chain. Thus before many of 
these walks were over a new conception had entered 
his brain. Setting one thing beside another, he had 
arrived at a conclusion. Where there are flower-beds 
there are asphalt paths; where there are flower¬ 
beds and asphalt paths, there are men in shiny 
top-hats; where there are flower-beds and asphalt 
paths and men in shiny top-hats, dogs must be 
led on chains. Without being able to decipher a 
word of the placard at the Gate, he had learnt his 
lesson—in Regent’s Park dogs must be led on chains. 



32 


FLUSH 


And to this nucleus of knowledge, born from the 
strange experiences of the summer of 1842, soon ad¬ 
hered another; dogs are not equal, but different. 
At Three Mile Gross Flush had mixed impartially 
with tap-room dogs and the Squire’s greyhounds; 
he had known no difference between the tinker’s 
dog and himself. Indeed it is probable that the 
mother of his child, though by courtesy called 
Spaniel, was nothing but a mongrel, eared in one 
way, tailed in another. But the dogs of London, 
Flush soon discovered, are strictly divided into 
different classes. Some are chained dogs; some run 
wild. Some take their airings in carriages and drink 
from purple jars; others are unkempt and uncol¬ 
lared and pick up a living in the gutter. Dogs there¬ 
fore, Flush began to suspect, differ; some are high, 
others low; and his suspicions were confirmed by 
snatches of talk held in passing with the dogs of 
Wimpole Street. “See that scallywag? A mere 
mongrel! ... By gad, that’s a fine Spaniel. One of 
the best blood in Britain! . . . Pity his ears aren’t a 
shade more curly. . . . There’s a topknot for you!” 

From such phrases, from the accent of praise or 
derision in which they were spoken, at the pillar¬ 
box or outside the public-house where the footmen 
were exchanging racing tips, Flush knew before the 



THE BACK BEDROOM 


33 


summer had passed that there is no equality 
among dogs: some dogs are high dogs; some are 
low. Which, then, was he? No sooner had Flush 
got home than he examined himself carefully in the 
looking-glass. Heaven be praised, he was a dog of 
birth and breeding! His head was smooth; his eyes 
were prominent but not gozzled; his feet were 
feathered; he was the equal of the best-bred cocker 
in Wimpole Street. He noted with approval the 
purple jar from which he drank—such are the 
privileges of rank; he bent his head quietly to have 
the chain fixed to his collar—such are its penalties. 
When about this time Miss Barrett observed him 
staring in the glass, she was mistaken. He was a 
philosopher, she thought, meditating the difference 
between appearance and reality. On the contrary, 
he was an aristocrat considering his points. 

But the fine summer days were soon over; the 
autumn winds began to blow; and Miss Barrett 
settled down to a life of complete seclusion in her 
bedroom. Flush’s life was also changed. His outdoor 
education was supplemented by that of the bed¬ 
room, and this, to a dog of Flush’s temperament, 
was the most drastic that could have been invented. 
His only airings, and these were brief and perfunc¬ 
tory, were taken in the company of Wilson, Miss 

C 



34 


FLUSH 


Barrett’s maid. For the rest of the day he kept his 
station on the sofa at Miss Barrett’s feet. All his 
natural instincts were thwarted and contradicted. 
When the autumn winds had blown last year in 
Berkshire he had run in wild scampering across the 
stubble; now at the sound of the ivy tapping on the 
pane Miss Barrett asked Wilson to see to the fasten¬ 
ings of the window. When the leaves of the scarlet 
runners and nasturtiums in the window-box yel¬ 
lowed and fell she drew her Indian shawl more 
closely round her. When the October rain lashed 
the window Wilson lit the fire and heaped up the 
coals. Autumn deepened into winter and the first 
fogs jaundiced the air. Wilson and Flush could 
scarcely grope their way to the pillar-box or to the 
chemist. When they came back, nothing could be 
seen in the room but the pale busts glimmering 
wanly on the tops of the wardrobes; the peasants 
and the castle had vanished on the blind; blank 
yellow filled the pane. Flush felt that he and Miss 
Barrett lived alone together in a cushioned and ►fire- 
lit cave. The traffic droned on perpetually outside 
with muffled reverberations; now and again a voice 
went calling hoarsely, “Old chairs and baskets to 
mend”, down the street: sometimes there was a 
jangle of organ music, coming nearer and louder; 



THE BACK BEDROOM 


35 


going further and fading away. But none of these 
sounds meant freedom, or action, or exercise. The 
wind and the rain, the wild days of autumn and the 
cold days of mid-winter, all alike meant nothing to 
Flush except warmth and stillness; the lighting of 
lamps, the drawing of curtains and the poking of 
the fire. 

At first the strain was too great to be borne. He 
could not help dancing round the room on a windy 
autumn day when the partridges must be scattering 
over the stubble. He thought he heard guns on the 
breeze. He could not help running to the door with 
his hackles raised when a dog barked outside. And 
yet when Miss Barrett called him back, when she 
laid her hand on his collar, he could not deny that 
another feeling, urgent, contradictory, disagree¬ 
able—he did not know what to call it or why he 
obeyed it—restrained him. He lay still at her feet. 
To resign, to control, to suppress the most violent 
instincts of his nature—that was the prime lesson 
of the bedroom school, and it was one of such 
portentous difficulty that many scholars have 
learnt Greek with less—many battles have been 
won that cost their generals not half such pain. 
But then, Miss Barrett was the teacher. Between 
them, Flush felt more and more strongly, as the 



36 


FLUSH 


weeks wore on, was a bond, an uncomfortable yet 
thrilling tightness; so that if his pleasure was her 
pain, then his pleasure was pleasure no longer but 
three parts pain. The truth of this was proved every 
day. Somebody opened the door and whistled him 
to come. Why should he not go out? He longed for 
air and exercise; his limbs were cramped with 
lying on the sofa. He had never grown altogether 
used to the smell of eau-de-Cologne. But no—though 
the door stood open, he would not leave Miss 
Barrett. He hesitated half-way to the door and 
then went back to the sofa. “Flushie”, wrote Miss 
Barrett, “is my friend—my companion—and loves 
me better than he loves the sunshine without.” 
She could not go out. She was chained to the sofa. 
“A bird in a cage would have as good a story”, she 
wrote, as she had. And Flush, to whom the whole 
world was free, chose to forfeit all the smells of 
Wimpole Street in order to lie by her side. 

And yet sometimes the tie would almost break; 
there were vast gaps in their understanding. Some¬ 
times they would lie and stare at each other in 
blank bewilderment. Why, Miss Barrett wondered, 
did Flush tremble suddenly, and whimper and start 
and listen? She could hear nothing; she could see 
nothing; there was nobody in the room with them. 



THE BACK BEDROOM 


37 


She could not guess that Folly, her sister’s little 
King Charles, had passed the door; or that Catiline 
the Cuba bloodhound had been given a mutton- 
bone by a footman in the basement. But Flush 
knew; he heard; he was ravaged by the alternate 
rages of lust and greed. Then with all her poet’s 
imagination Miss Barrett could not divine what 
Wilson’s wet umbrella meant to Flush; what 
memories it recalled, of forests and parrots and wild 
trumpeting elephants; nor did she know, when 
Mr. Kenyon stumbled over the bell-pull, that Flush 
heard dark men cursing in the mountains; the cry, 
“Span! Span!” rang in his ears, and it was in some 
muffled, ancestral rage that he bit him. 

Flush was equally at a loss to account for Miss 
Barrett’s emotions. There she would lie hour after 
hour passing her hand over a white page with a 
black stick; and her eyes would suddenly fill with 
tears; but why? “Ah, my dear Mr. Horne”, she was 
writing. “And then came the failure in my health 
. . . and then the enforced exile to Torquay . . . 
which gave a nightmare to my life for ever, and 
robbed it of more than I can speak of here; do not 
speak of that anywhere. Do not speak of that , dear 
Mr. Horne.” But there was no sound in the room, 
no smell to make Miss Barrett cry. Then again 



38 


FLUSH 


Miss Barrett, still agitating her stick, burst out 
laughing. She had drawn £C a very neat and char¬ 
acteristic portrait of Flush, humorously made 
rather like myself”, and she had written under it 
that it “only fails of being an excellent substitute 
for mine through being more worthy than I can 
be counted”. What was there to laugh at in the 
black smudge that she held out for Flush to look 
at? He could smell nothing; he could hear nothing. 
There was nobody in the room with them. The 
fact was that they could not communicate with 
words, and it was a fact that led undoubtedly to 
much misunderstanding. Yet did it not lead also 
to a peculiar intimacy? 4 ‘Writing”, Miss Barrett 
once exclaimed after a morning’s toil, “writing, 
writing ...” After all, she may have thought, do 
words say everything? Can words say anything? Do 
not words destroy the symbol that lies beyond the 
reach of words? Once at least Miss Barrett seems to 
have found it so. She was lying, thinking; she had 
forgotten Flush altogether, and her thoughts were 
so sad that the tears fell upon the pillow. Then sud¬ 
denly a hairy head was pressed against her; large 
bright eyes shone in hers; and she started. Was it 
Flush, or was it Pan? Was she no longer an invalid 
in Wimpole Street, but a Greek nymph in some dim 



THE BACK BEDROOM 


39 


grove in Arcady? And did the bearded god himself 
press his lips to hers? For a moment she was trans¬ 
formed; she was a nymph and Flush was Pan. The 
sun burnt and love blazed. But suppose Flush had 
been able to speak—would he not have said some¬ 
thing sensible about the potato disease in Ireland? 

So, too, Flush felt strange stirrings at work within 
him. When he saw Miss Barrett’s thin hands deli¬ 
cately lifting some silver box or pearl ornament 
from the ringed table, his own furry paws seemed 
to contract and he longed that they should fine 
themselves to ten separate fingers. When he heard 
her low voice syllabling innumerable sounds, he 
longed for the day when his own rough roar would 
issue like hers in the little simple sounds that had 
such mysterious meaning. And when he watched 
the same fingers for ever crossing a white page with 
a straight stick, he longed for the time when he too 
should blacken paper as she did. 

And yet, had he been able to write as she did? 
—The question is superfluous happily, for truth 
compels us to say that in the year 1842-43 Miss 
Barrett was not a nymph but an invalid; Flush was 
not a poet but a red cocker spaniel; and Wimpole 
Street was not Arcady but Wimpole Street. 

So the long hours went by in the back bedroom 



40 


FLUSH 


with nothing to mark them but the sound of steps 
passing on the stairs; and the distant sound of the 
front door shutting, and the sound of a broom tap¬ 
ping, and the sound of the postman knocking. In the 
room coals clicked; the lights and shadows shifted 
themselves over the brows of the five pale busts, 
over the bookcase and its red merino. But some¬ 
times the step on the stair did not pass the door; it 
stopped outside. The handle was seen to spin 
round; the door actually opened; somebody came 
in. Then how strangely the furniture changed its 
look! What extraordinary eddies of sound and smell 
were at once set in circulation! How they washed 
round the legs of tables and impinged on the sharp 
edges of the wardrobe! Probably it was Wilson, with 
a tray of food or a glass of medicine; or it might be 
one of Miss Barrett’s two sisters—Arabel or Henri¬ 
etta; or it might be one of Miss Barrett’s seven 
brothers—Charles, Samuel, George, Henry, Alfred, 
Septimus or Octavius. But once or twice a week 
Flush was aware that something more important 
was about to happen. The bed would be carefully 
disguised as a sofa. The armchair would be drawn 
up beside it; Miss Barrett herself would be wrapped 
becomingly in Indian shawls; the toilet things 
would be scrupulously hidden under the busts of 



THE BACK BEDROOM 


41 


Chaucer and Homer; Flush himself would be 
combed and brushed. At about two or three in the 
afternoon there was a peculiar, distinct and differ¬ 
ent tap at the door. Miss Barrett flushed, smiled and 
stretched out her hand. Then in would come—per¬ 
haps dear Miss Mitford, rosy and shiny and chat¬ 
tering, with a bunch of geraniums. Or it might be 
Mr. Kenyon, a stout, well-groomed elderly gentle¬ 
man, radiating benevolence, provided with a book. 
Or it might be Mrs. Jameson, a lady who was the 
very opposite of Mr. Kenyon to look at—a lady with 
“a very light complexion—pale, lucid eyes; thin 
colourless lips ... a nose and chin projective with¬ 
out breadth 55 . Each had his or her own manner, 
smell, tone and accent. Miss Mitford burbled and 
chattered, was fly-away yet substantial; Mr. Ken¬ 
yon was urbane and cultured and mumbled slightly 
because he had lost two front teeth; Mrs. Jameson 
had lost none of her teeth, and moved as sharply 
and precisely as she spoke. 

Lying couched at Miss Barrett’s feet, Flush let the 
voices ripple over him, hour by hour. On and on 
they went. Miss Barrett laughed, expostulated, ex¬ 
claimed, sighed too, and laughed again. At last, 
greatly to Flush’s relief, little silences came—even in 
the flow of Miss Mitford’s conversation. Gould it be 



42 


FLUSH 


seven already? She had been there since midday! 
She must really run to catch her train. Mr. Kenyon 
shut his book—he had been reading aloud—and 
stood with his back to the fire; Mrs. Jameson with a 
sharp, angular movement pressed each finger of her 
glove sharp down. And Flush was patted by this one 
and had his ear pulled by another. The routine of 
leave-taking was intolerably prolonged; but at last 
Mrs. Jameson, Mr. Kenyon, and even Miss Mitford 
had risen, had said good-bye, had remembered 
something, had lost something, had found some¬ 
thing, had reached the door, had opened it, and 
were—Heaven be praised—gone at last. 

Miss Barrett sank back very white, very tired on 
her pillows. Flush crept closer to her. Mercifully 
they were alone again. But the visitor had stayed so 
long that it was almost dinner-time. Smells began 
to rise from the basement. Wilson was at the door 
with Miss Barrett’s dinner on a tray. It was set down 
on the table beside her and the covers lifted. But 
what with the dressing and the talking, what with 
the heat of the room and the agitation of the fare¬ 
wells, Miss Barrett was too tired to eat. She gave a 
little sigh when she saw the plump mutton chop, or 
the wing of partridge or chicken that had been sent 
up for her dinner. So long as Wilson was in the 



THE BACK BEDROOM 


43 


room she fiddled about with her knife and fork. But 
directly the door was shut and they were alone, she 
made a sign. She held up her fork. A whole chicken’s 
wing was impaled upon it. Flush advanced. Miss 
Barrett nodded. Very gently, very cleverly, without 
spilling a crumb, Flush removed the wing; swal¬ 
lowed it down and left no trace behind. Half a rice 
pudding clotted with thick cream went the same 
way. Nothing could have been neater, more effect¬ 
ive than Flush’s co-operation. He was lying 
couched as usual at Miss Barrett’s feet, apparently 
asleep, Miss Barrett was lying rested and restored, 
apparently having made an excellent dinner, when 
once more a step that was heavier, more deliberate 
and firmer than any other, stopped on the stair; 
solemnly a knock sounded that was no tap of 
enquiry but a demand for admittance; the door 
opened and in came the blackest, the most for¬ 
midable of elderly men—Mr. Barrett himself. His 
eye at once sought the tray. Had the meal been 
eaten? Had his commands been obeyed? Yes, the 
plates were empty. Signifying his approval of his 
daughter’s obedience, Mr. Barrett lowered himself 
heavily into the chair by her side. As that dark body 
approached him, shivers of terror and horror ran 
down Flush’s spine. So a savage couched in flowers 



44 


FLUSH 


shudders when the thunder growls and he hears the 
voice of God. Then Wilson whistled; and Flush, 
slinking guiltily, as if Mr. Barrett could read his 
thoughts and those thoughts were evil, crept out of 
the room and rushed downstairs. A force had 
entered the bedroom which he dreaded; a force that 
he was powerless to withstand. Once he burst in un¬ 
expectedly. Mr. Barrett was on his knees praying by 
his daughter’s side. 



CHAPTER III 


THE HOODED MAN 

Such an education as this, in the back bedroom at 
Wimpole Street, would have told upon an ordinary 
dog. And Flush was not an ordinary dog. He was 
high-spirited, yet reflective; canine, but highly 
sensitive to human emotions also. Upon such a dog 
the atmosphere of the bedroom told with peculiar 
force. We cannot blame him if his sensibility was 
cultivated rather to the detriment of his sterner 
qualities. Naturally, lying with his head pillowed 
on a Greek lexicon, he came to dislike barking and 
biting; he came to prefer the silence of the cat to 
the robustness of the dog; and human sympathy to 
either. Miss Barrett, too, did her best to refine and 
educate his powers still further. Once she took a 
harp from the window and asked him, as she laid 
it by his side, whether he thought that the harp, 
which made music, was itself alive? He looked and 
listened; pondered, it seemed, for a moment in 
doubt and then decided that it was not. Then she 


45 



46 


FLUSH 


would make him stand with her in front of the 
looking-glass and ask him why he barked and 
trembled. Was not the little brown dog opposite 
himself? But what is“oneself 55 ? Is it the thing people 
see? Or is it the thing one is? So Flush pondered 
that question too, and, unable to solve the problem 
of reality, pressed closer to Miss Barrett and kissed 
her “expressively 55 . That was real at any rate. 

Fresh from such problems, with such emotional 
dilemmas agitating his nervous system, he went 
downstairs, and we cannot be surprised if there was 
something—a touch of the supercilious, of the 
superior—in his bearing that roused the rage of 
Catiline, the savage Cuba bloodhound, so that he 
set upon him and bit him and sent him howling 
upstairs to Miss Barrett for sympathy. Flush “is 
no hero 55 , she concluded; but why was he no hero? 
Was it not partly on her account? She was too just 
not to realise that it was for her that he had sacri¬ 
ficed his courage, as it was for her that he had 
sacrificed the sun and the air. This nervous sensi¬ 
bility had its drawbacks, no doubt—she was full 
of apologies when he flew at Mr. Kenyon and bit 
him for stumbling over the bell-pull; it was annoy¬ 
ing when he moaned piteously all night because 
he was not allowed to sleep on her bed—when 



THE HOODED MAN 


47 


he refused to eat unless she fed him; but she took 
the blame and bore the inconvenience because, after 
all, Flush loved her. He had refused the air and 
the sun for her sake. “He is worth loving, is he not?” 
she asked of Mr. Horne. And whatever answer 
Mr. Horne might give, Miss Barrett was positive of 
her own. She loved Flush, and Flush was worthy 
of her love. 

It seemed as if nothing were to break that tie— 
as if the years were merely to compact and cement 
it; and as if those years were to be all the years of 
their natural lives. Eighteen-forty-two turned into 
eighteen-forty-three; eighteen-forty-three into eigh- 
teen-forty-four; eighteen-forty-four into eighteen- 
forty-five. Flush was no longer a puppy; he was a 
dog of four or five; he was a dog in the full prime of 
life—and still Miss Barrett lay on her sofa in Wim- 
pole Street and still Flush lay on the sofa at her 
feet. Miss Barrett’s life was the life of “a bird in its 
cage”. She sometimes kept the house for weeks at 
a time, and when she left it, it was only for an hour 
or two, to drive to a shop in a carriage, or to be 
wheeled to Regent’s Park in a bath-chair. The 
Barretts never left London. Mr. Barrett, the seven 
brothers, the two sisters, the butler, Wilson and 
the maids, Catiline, Folly, Miss Barrett and Flush 



48 


FLUSH 


all went on living at 50 Wimpole Street, eating in 
the dining-room, sleeping in the bedrooms, 
smoking in the study, cooking in the kitchen, 
carrying hot-water cans and emptying the slops 
from January to December. The chair-covers be¬ 
came slightly soiled; the carpets slightly worn; 
coal dust, mud, soot, fog, vapours of cigar smoke 
and wine and meat accumulated in crevices, in 
cracks, in fabrics, on the tops of picture-frames, in 
the scrolls of carvings. And the ivy that hung over 
Miss Barrett’s bedroom window flourished; its 
green curtain became thicker and thicker, and in 
summer the nasturtiums and the scarlet runners 
rioted together in the window-box. 

But one night early in January 1845 the postman 
knocked. Letters fell into the box as usual. Wilson 
went downstairs to fetch the letters as usual. 
Everything was as usual—every night the postman 
knocked, every night Wilson fetched the letters, 
every night there was a letter for Miss Barrett. 
But to-night the letter was not the same letter; it 
was a different letter. Flush saw that, even before 
the envelope was broken. He knew it from the way 
that Miss Barrett took it; turned it; looked at the 
vigorous, jagged writing of her name. He knew it 
from the indescribable tremor in her fingers, from 



THE HOODED MAN 


49 


the impetuosity with which they tore the flap open, 
from the absorption with which she read. He 
watched her read. And as she read he heard, as 
when we are half asleep we hear through the 
clamour of the street some bell ringing and know 
that it is addressed to us, alarmingly yet faintly, 
as if someone far away were trying to rouse us with 
the warning of fire, or burglary, or some menace 
against our peace and we start in alarm before we 
wake—so Flush, as Miss Barrett read the little 
blotted sheet, heard a bell rousing him from his 
sleep; warning him of some danger; menacing his 
safety and bidding him sleep no more. Miss Barrett 
read the letter quickly; she read the letter slowly; 
she returned it carefully to its envelope. She too 
slept no more. 

Again, a few nights later, there was the same 
letter on Wilson’s tray. Again it was read quickly, 
read slowly, read over and over again. Then it was 
put away carefully, not in the drawer with the 
voluminous sheets of Miss Mitford’s letters, but by 
itself. Now Flush paid the full price of long years of 
accumulated sensibility lying couched on cushions 
at Miss Barrett’s feet. He could read signs that no¬ 
body else could even see. He could tell by the touch 
of Miss Barrett’s fingers that she was waiting for one 

D 



50 


FLUSH 


thing only—for the postman’s knock, for the letter on 
the tray. She would be stroking him perhaps with a 
light, regular movement; suddenly—there was the 
rap—her fingers constricted; he would be held in a 
vice while Wilson came upstairs. Then she took the 
letter and he was loosed and forgotten. 

Yet, he argued, what was there to be afraid of, so 
long as there was no change in Miss Barrett’s life? 
And there was no change. No new visitors came. 
Mr. Kenyon came as usual; Miss Mitford came as 
usual. The brothers and sisters came; and in the 
evening Mr. Barrett came. They noticed nothing; 
they suspected nothing. So he would quieten him¬ 
self and try to believe, when a few nights passed 
without the envelope, that the enemy had gone. A 
man in a cloak, he imagined, a cowled and hooded 
figure, had passed, like a burglar, rattling the door, 
and finding it guarded, had slunk away defeated. 
The danger, Flush tried to make himself believe, 
was over. The man had gone. And then the letter 
came again. 

As the envelopes came more and more regularly, 
night after night, Flush began to notice signs of 
change in Miss Barrett herself. For the first time in 
Flush’s experience she was irritable and restless. 
She could not read and she could not write. She 



THE HOODED MAN 51 


stood at the window and looked out. She questioned 
Wilson anxiously about the weather—was the wind 
still in the east? Was there any sign of spring in the 
Park yet? Oh no, Wilson replied; the wind was a 
cruel east wind still. And Miss Barrett, Flush felt, 
was at once relieved and annoyed. She coughed. 
She complained of feeling ill—but not so ill as she 
usually felt when the wind was in the east. And 
then, when she was alone, she read over again last 
night’s letter. It was the longest she had yet had. 
There were many pages, closely covered, darkly 
blotted, scattered with strange little abrupt hiero¬ 
glyphics. So much Flush could see, from his station 
at her feet. But he could make no sense of the words 
that Miss Barrett was murmuring to herself. Only 
he could trace her agitation when she came to the 
end of the page and read aloud (though unintelli¬ 
gibly), “Do you think I shall see you in two months, 
three months?” 

Then she took up her pen and passed it rapidly 
and nervously over sheet after sheet. But what did 
they mean—the little words that Miss Barrett 
wrote? “April is coming. There will be both a May 
and a June if we live to see such things, and perhaps, 
after all, we may ... I will indeed see you when the 
warm weather has revived me a little. . . . But I 



52 


FLUSH 


shall be afraid of you at first—though I am not, in 
writing thus. You are Paracelsus, and I am a recluse, 
with nerves that have been broken on the rack, and 
now hang loosely, quivering at a step and breath. 55 

Flush could not read what she was writing an 
inch or two above his head. But he knew just as well 
as if he could read every word, how strangely his 
mistress was agitated as she wrote; what contrary 
desires shook her—that April might come; that 
April might not come; that she might see this un¬ 
known man at once, that she might never see him 
at all. Flush, too, quivered as she did at a step, at a 
breath. And remorselessly the days went on. The 
wind blew out the blind. The sun whitened the 
busts. A bird sang in the mews. Men went crying 
fresh flowers to sell down Wimpole Street. All these 
sounds meant, he knew, that April was coming and 
May and June—nothing could stop the approach of 
that dreadful spring. For what was coming with the 
spring? Some terror—some horror—something that 
Miss Barrett dreaded, and that Flush dreaded too. 
He started now at the sound of a step. But it was 
only Henrietta. Then there was a knock. It was only 
Mr. Kenyon. So April passed; and the first twenty 
days of May. And then, on the 21st of May, Flush 
knew that the day itself had come. For on Tuesday, 



THE HOODED MAN 


53 


the 21 st of May, Miss Barrett looked searchingly in 
the glass; arrayed herself exquisitely in her Indian 
shawls; bade Wilson draw the armchair close, but 
not too close; touched this, that and the other; and 
then sat upright among her pillows. Flush couched 
himself taut at her feet. They waited, alone to¬ 
gether. At last, Marylebone Church clock struck 
two; they waited. Then Marylebone Church clock 
struck a single stroke—It was half-past two; and as 
the single stroke died away, a rap sounded boldly 
on the front door. Miss Barrett turned pale; she lay 
very still. Flush lay still too. Upstairs came the 
dreaded, the inexorable footfall; upstairs, Flush 
knew, came the cowled and sinister figure of mid¬ 
night—the hooded man. Now his hand was on the 
door. The handle spun. There he stood. 

“Mr. Browning”, said Wilson. 

Flush, watching Miss Barrett, saw the colour rush 
into her face; saw her eyes brighten and her lips 
open. 

“Mr. Browning!” she exclaimed. 

Twisting his yellow gloves in his hands, blinking 
his eyes, well groomed, masterly, abrupt, Mr. 
Browning strode across the room. He seized Miss 
Barrett’s hand, and sank into the chair by the sofa 
at her side. Instantly they began to talk. 



54 


FLUSH 


What was horrible to Flush, as they talked, was 
his loneliness. Once he had felt that he and Miss 
Barrett were together, in a firelit cave. Now the 
cave was no longer firelit; it was dark and damp; 
Miss Barrett was outside. He looked round him. 
Everything had changed. The bookcase, the five 
busts—they were no longer friendly deities pre¬ 
siding approvingly—they were hostile, severe. He 
shifted his position at Miss Barrett’s feet. She took 
no notice. He whined. They did not hear him. At 
last he lay still in tense and silent agony. The talk 
went on; but it did not flow and ripple as talk 
usually flowed and rippled. It leapt and jerked. It 
stopped and leapt again. Flush had never heard 
that sound in Miss Barrett’s voice before—that 
vigour, that excitement. Her cheeks were bright 
as he had never seen them bright; her great eyes 
blazed as he had never seen them blaze. The clock 
struck four; and still they talked. Then it struck 
half-past four. At that Mr. Browning jumped up. 
A horrid decision, a dreadful boldness marked 
every movement. In another moment he had 
wrung Miss Barrett’s hand in his; he had taken his 
hat and gloves; he had said good-bye. They heard 
him running down the stairs. Smartly the door 
banged behind him. He was gone. 



THE HOODED MAN 


55 


But Miss Barrett did not sink back in her pillows 
as she sank back when Mr. Kenyon or Miss Mitford 
left her. Now she still sat upright; her eyes still 
burnt; her cheeks still glowed; she seemed still to 
feel that Mr. Browning was with her. Flush touched 
her. She recalled him with a start. She patted him 
lightly, joyfully, on the head. And smiling, she gave 
him the oddest look—as if she wished that he could 
talk—as if she expected him too to feel what she 
felt. And then she laughed, pityingly; as if it were 
absurd—Flush, poor Flush could feel nothing of 
what she felt. He could know nothing of what she 
knew. Never had such wastes of dismal distance 
separated them. He lay there ignored; he might 
not have been there, he felt. Miss Barrett no longer 
remembered his existence. 

And that night she ate her chicken to the bone. 
Not a scrap of potato or of skin was thrown 
to Flush. When Mr. Barrett came as usual, Flush 
marvelled at his obtuseness. He sat himself down 
in the very chair that the man had sat in. His head 
pressed the same cushions that the man’s had 
pressed, and yet he noticed nothing. “Don’t you 
know”, Flush marvelled, “who’s been sitting in that 
chair? Can’t you smell him?” For to Flush the whole 
room still reeked of Mr. Browning’s presence. The 



56 


FLUSH 


air dashed past the bookcase, and eddied and 
curled round the heads of the five pale busts. But 
the heavy man sat by his daughter in entire self¬ 
absorption. He noticed nothing. He suspected 
nothing. Aghast at his obtuseness, Flush slipped 
past him out of the room. 

But in spite of their astonishing blindness, even 
Miss Barrett’s family began to notice, as the weeks 
passed, a change in Miss Barrett. She left her room 
and went down to sit in the drawing-room. Then 
she did what she had not done for many a long day 
—she actually walked on her own feet as far as the 
gate at Devonshire Place with her sister. Her 
friends, her family, were amazed at her improve¬ 
ment. But only Flush knew where her strength 
came from—it came from the dark man in the arm¬ 
chair. He came again and again and again. First 
it was once a week; then it was twice a week. He 
came always in the afternoon and left in the after¬ 
noon. Miss Barrett always saw him alone. And on 
the days when he did not come, his letters came. 
And when he himself was gone, his flowers were 
there. And in the mornings when she was alone, 
Miss Barrett wrote to him. That dark, taut, abrupt, 
vigorous man, with his black hair, his red cheeks 
and his yellow gloves, was everywhere. Naturally, 



THE HOODED MAN 


57 


Miss Barrett was better; of course she could walk. 
Flush himself felt that it was impossible to lie still. 
Old longings revived; a new restlessness possessed 
him. Even his sleep was full of dreams. He dreamt 
as he had not dreamt since the old days at Three 
Mile Gross—of hares starting from the long grass; 
of pheasants rocketing up with long tails streaming, 
of partridges rising with a whirr from the stubble. 
He dreamt that he was hunting, that he was chas¬ 
ing some spotted spaniel, who fled, who escaped 
him. He was in Spain; he was in Wales; he was 
in Berkshire; he was flying before park-keepers’ 
truncheons in Regent’s Park. Then he opened his 
eyes. There were no hares, and no partridges; no 
whips cracking and no black men crying 44 Span! 
Span!” There was only Mr. Browning in the arm¬ 
chair talking to Miss Barrett on the sofa. 

Sleep became impossible while that man was 
there. Flush lay with his eyes wide open, listening. 
Though he could make no sense of the little words 
that hurtled over his head from two-thirty to four- 
thirty sometimes three times a week, he could detect 
with terrible accuracy that the tone of the words 
was changing. Miss Barrett’s voice had been forced 
and unnaturally lively at first. Now it had gained a 
warmth and an ease that he had never heard in it 



58 


FLUSH 


before. And every time the man came, some new 
sound came into their voices—now they made a 
grotesque chattering; now they skimmed over him 
like birds flying widely; now they cooed and clucked, 
as if they were two birds settled in a nest; and 
then Miss Barrett’s voice, rising again, went soaring 
and circling in the air; and then Mr. Browning’s 
voice barked out its sharp, harsh clapper of laugh¬ 
ter; and then there was only a murmur, a quiet 
humming sound as the two voices joined together. 
But as the summer turned to autumn Flush noted, 
with horrid apprehension, another note. There was 
a new urgency, a new pressure and energy in the 
man’s voice, at which Miss Barrett, Flush felt, took 
fright. Her voice fluttered; hesitated; seemed to 
falter and fade and plead and gasp, as if she were 
begging for a rest, for a pause, as if she were afraid. 
Then the man was silent. 

Of him they took but little notice. He might have 
been a log of wood lying there at Miss Barrett’s feet 
for all the attention Mr. Browning paid him. Some¬ 
times he scrubbed his head in a brisk, spasmodic 
way, energetically, without sentiment, as he passed 
him. Whatever that scrub might mean, Flush felt 
nothing but an intense dislike for Mr. Browning. 
The very sight of him, so well tailored, so tight, so 



THE HOODED MAN 


59 


muscular, screwing his yellow gloves in his hand, 
set his teeth on edge. Oh! to let them meet sharply, 
completely in the stuff of his trousers! And yet he 
dared not. Taking it all in all, that winter—1845-6 
—was the most distressing that Flush had ever 
known. 

The winter passed; and spring came round again. 
Flush could see no end to the affair; and yet just 
as a river, though it reflects still trees and grazing 
cows and rooks returning to the tree-tops, moves in¬ 
evitably to a waterfall, so those days, Flush knew, 
were moving to catastrophe. Rumours of change 
hovered in the air. Sometimes he thought that some 
vast exodus impended. There was that indefinable 
stir in the house which precedes—could it be pos¬ 
sible?—a journey. Boxes were actually dusted, were, 
incredible as it might seem, opened. Then they 
were shut again. No, it was not the family that was 
going to move. The brothers and sisters still went in 
and out as usual. Mr. Barrett paid his nightly visit, 
after the man had gone, at his accustomed hour. 
What was it, then, that was going to happen? for as 
the summer of 1846 wore on, Flush was positive that 
a change was coming. He could hear it again in the 
altered sound of the eternal voices. Miss Barrett’s 
voice, that had been pleading and afraid, lost its 



6 o 


FLUSH 


faltering note. It rang out with a determination and 
a boldness that Flush had never heard in it before. 
If only Mr. Barrett could hear the tone in which 
she welcomed this usurper, the laugh with which 
she greeted him, the exclamation with which he 
took her hand in his! But nobody was in the room 
with them except Flush. To him the change was of 
the most galling nature. It was not merely that Miss 
Barrett was changing towards Mr. Browning—she 
was changing in every relation—in her feeling to¬ 
wards Flush himself. She treated his advances more 
brusquely; she cut short his endearments laugh¬ 
ingly; she made him feel that there was something 
petty, silly, affected, in his old affectionate ways. 
His vanity was exacerbated. His jealousy was in¬ 
flamed. At last, when July came, he determined to 
make one violent attempt to regain her favour, and 
perhaps to oust the newcomer. How to accomplish 
this double purpose he did not know, and could not 
plan. But suddenly on the 8th of July his feelings 
overcame him. He flung himself on Mr. Browning 
and bit him savagely. At last his teeth met in the 
immaculate cloth of Mr. Browning’s trousers! But 
the limb inside was hard as iron—Mr. Kenyon’s 
leg had been butter in comparison. Mr. Browning 
brushed him off with a flick of his hand and went on 


THE HOODED MAN 


6 l 


talking. Neither he nor Miss Barrett seemed to think 
the attack worthy of attention. Completely foiled, 
worsted, without a shaft left in his sheath. Flush 
sank back on his cushions panting with rage and 
disappointment. But he had misjudged Miss Bar¬ 
rett’s insight. When Mr. Browning was gone, she 
called him to her and inflicted upon him the worst 
punishment he had ever known. First she slapped 
his ears—that was nothing; oddly enough the slap 
was rather to his liking; he would have welcomed 
another. But then she said in her sober, certain 
tones that she would never love him again. That 
shaft went to his heart. All these years they had 
lived together, shared everything together, and 
now, for one moment’s failure, she would never love 
him again. Then, as if to make her dismissal com¬ 
plete, she took the flowers that Mr. Browning had 
brought her and began to put them in water in a 
vase. It was an act, Flush thought, of calculated and 
deliberate malice; an act designed to make him feel 
his own insignificance completely. “This rose is 
from him”, she seemed to say, “and this carnation. 
Let the red shine by the yellow; and the yellow by 
the red. And let the green leaf lie there—” And, set¬ 
ting one flower with another, she stood back to gaze 
at them as if he were before her—the man in the 



62 


FLUSH 


yellow gloves—a mass of brilliant flowers. But even 
so, even as she pressed the leaves and flowers to¬ 
gether, she could not altogether ignore the fixity 
with which Flush gazed at her. She could not deny 
that"expression of quite despair on his face 55 . She 
could not but relent. "At last I said, 'If you are 
good, Flush, you may come and say that you are 
sorry 5 , on which he dashed across the room and, 
trembling all over, kissed first one of my hands and 
then another, and put up his paws to be shaken, and 
looked into my face with such beseeching eyes that 
you would certainly have forgiven him just as I 
did. 55 That was her account of the matter to Mr. 
Browning; and he of course replied: "Oh, poor 
Flush, do you think I do not love and respect him 
for his jealous supervision—his slowness to know 
another, having once known you? 55 It was easy 
enough for Mr. Browning to be magnanimous, but 
that easy magnanimity was perhaps the sharpest 
thorn that pressed into Flush’s side. 

Another incident a few days later showed how 
widely they were separated, who had been so close, 
how little Flush could now count on Miss Barrett 
for sympathy. After Mr. Browning had gone one 
afternoon Miss Barrett decided to drive to Regent’s 
Park with her sister. As they got out at the Park 



THE HOODED MAN 


63 


gate the door of the four-wheeler shut on Flush’s 
paw. He “cried piteously” and held it up to Miss 
Barrett for sympathy. In other days sympathy in 
abundance would have been lavished upon him 
for less. But now a detached, a mocking, a critical 
expression came into her eyes. She laughed at him. 
She thought he was shamming: “. . . no sooner 
had he touched the grass than he began to run 
without a thought of it”, she wrote. And she com¬ 
mented sarcastically, “Flush always makes the most 
of his misfortunes—he is of the Byronic school— 
il se pose en victime ”. But here Miss Barrett, absorbed 
in her own emotions, misjudged him completely. 
If his paw had been broken, still he would have 
bounded. That dash was his answer to her mockery; 
I have done with you—that was the meaning he 
flashed at her as he ran. The flowers smelt bitter 
to him; the grass burnt his paws; the dust filled his 
nostrils with disillusion. But he raced—hescampered. 
“Dogs must be led on chains”—there was the usual 
placard; there were the park-keepers with their 
top-hats and their truncheons to enforce it. But 
“must” no longer had any meaning for him. The 
chain of love was broken. He would run where he 
liked; chase partridges; chase spaniels; splash into 
the middle of dahlia beds; break brilliant, blowing 



64 


FLUSH 


red and yellow roses. Let the park-keepers throw 
their truncheons if they chose. Let them dash his 
brains out. Let him fall dead, disembowelled, at 
Miss Barrett’s feet. He cared nothing. But naturally 
nothing of the kind happened. Nobody pursued 
him; nobody noticed him. The solitary park- 
keeper was talking to a nursemaid. At last he 
returned to Miss Barrett and she absent-mindedly 
slipped the chain over his neck, and led him 
home. 

After two such humiliations the spirit of an 
ordinary dog, the spirit even of an ordinary human 
being, might well have been broken. But Flush, 
for all his softness and silkiness, had eyes that 
blazed; had passions that leapt not merely in bright 
flame but sunk and smouldered. He resolved to 
meet his enemy face to face and alone. No third 
person should interrupt this final conflict. It should 
be fought out by the principals themselves. On the 
afternoon of Tuesday, the 21st of July, therefore, 
he slipped downstairs and waited in the hall. He 
had not long to wait. Soon he heard the tramp of 
the familiar footstep in the street; he heard the 
familiar rap on the door. Mr. Browning was 
admitted. Vaguely aware of the impending attack 
and determined to meet it in the most conciliatory 



THE HOODED MAN 


65 


of spirits, Mr. Browning had come provided with 
a parcel of cakes. There was Flush waiting in the 
hall. Mr. Browning made, evidently, some well- 
meant attempt to caress him; perhaps he even went 
so far as to offer him a cake. The gesture was enough. 
Flush sprang upon his enemy with unparalleled 
violence. His teeth once more met in Mr. Browning’s 
trousers. But unfortunately in the excitement of 
the moment he forgot what was most essential— 
silence. He barked; he flung himself on Mr. Brown¬ 
ing, barking loudly. The sound was sufficient to 
alarm the household. Wilson rushed downstairs. 
Wilson beat him soundly. Wilson overpowered 
him completely. Wilson led him in ignominy away* 
Ignominy it was—to have attacked Mr. Browning, 
to have been beaten by Wilson. Mr. Browning had 
not lifted a finger. Taking his cakes with him, Mr. 
Browning proceeded unhurt, unmoved, in perfect 
composure, upstairs, alone to the bedroom. Flush 
was led away. 

After two and a half hours of miserable con¬ 
finement with parrots and beetles, ferns and sauce¬ 
pans, in the kitchen, Flush was summoned to Miss 
Barrett’s presence. She was lying on the sofa with 
her sister Arabella beside her. Conscious of the 
rightness of his cause, Flush went straight to her. 

E 



66 


FLUSH 


But she refused to look at him. He turned to Ara¬ 
bella. She merely said, “Naughty Flush, go away”. 
Wilson was there—the formidable, the implacable 
Wilson. It was to her that Miss Barrett turned for 
information. She had beaten him, Wilson said, 
“because it was right 55 . And, she added, she had 
only beaten him with her hand. It was upon her 
evidence that Flush was convicted. The attack. 
Miss Barrett assumed, had been unprovoked; she 
credited Mr. Browning with all virtue, with all 
generosity; Flush had been beaten off by a servant, 
without a whip, because “it was right 55 . There was 
no more to be said. Miss Barrett decided against 
him. “So he lay down on the floor at my feet, 55 she 
wrote, “looking from under his eyebrows at me. 55 
But though Flush might look, Miss Barrett refused 
even to meet his eyes. There she lay on the sofa; 
there Flush lay on the floor. 

And as he lay there, exiled, on the carpet, he 
went through one of those whirlpools of tumultuous 
emotion in which the soul is either dashed upon 
the rocks and splintered or, finding some tuft of 
foothold, slowly and painfully pulls itself up, re¬ 
gains dry land, and at last emerges on top of a 
ruined universe to survey a world created afresh 
on a different plan. Which was it to be—destruc- 



THE HOODED MAN 


67 


tion or reconstruction? That was the question. The 
outlines only of his dilemma can be traced here; 
for his debate was silent. Twice Flush had done his 
utmost to kill his enemy; twice he had failed. And 
why had he failed, he asked himself? Because he 
loved Miss Barrett. Looking up at her from under 
his eyebrows as she lay, severe and silent on the 
sofa, he knew that he must love her for ever. Things 
are not simple but complex. If he bit Mr. Browning 
he bit her too. Hatred is not hatred; hatred is also 
love. Here Flush shook his ears in an agony of 
perplexity. He turned uneasily on the floor. Mr. 
Browning was Miss Barrett—Miss Barrett was Mr. 
Browning; love is hatred and hatred is love. He 
stretched himself, whined and raised his head from 
the floor. The clock struck eight. For three hours 
and more he had been lying there, tossed from the 
horn of one dilemma to another. 

Even Miss Barrett, severe, cold, implacable as 
she was, laid down her pen. “Wicked Flush!” she 
had been writing to Mr. Browning, “. . . if people 
like Flush, choose to behave like dogs savagely, 
they must take the consequences indeed, as dogs 
usually do! Andrew, so good and gentle to him! Any¬ 
one but you would have said ‘hasty words’ at least.” 
Really it would be a good plan, she thought, to 



68 


FLUSH 


buy a muzzle. And then she looked up and saw 
Flush. Something unusual in his look must have 
struck her. She paused. She laid down her pen. 
Once he had roused her with a kiss, and she had 
thought that he was Pan. He had eaten chicken 
and rice pudding soaked in cream. He had given 
up the sunshine for her sake. She called him to her 
and said she forgave him. 

But to be forgiven, as if for a passing whim, to 
be taken back again on to the sofa as if he had 
learnt nothing in his anguish on the floor, as if he 
were the same dog when in fact he differed totally, 
was impossible. For the moment, exhausted as he 
was, Flush submitted. A few days later, however, 
a remarkable scene took place between him and 
Miss Barrett which showed the depths of his 
emotions. Mr. Browning had been and gone; 
Flush was alone with Miss Barrett. Normally he 
would have leapt on to the sofa at her feet. But 
now, instead of jumping up as usual and claiming 
her caress, Flush went to what was now called 
“Mr. Browning’s armchair”. Usually the chair 
was abhorrent to him; it still held the shape of his 
enemy. But now, such was the battle he had won, 
such was the charity that suffused him, that he not 
only looked at the chair but, as he looked, “sud- 



THE HOODED MAN 


69 


denly fell into a rapture 55 . Miss Barrett, watching 
him intently, observed this extraordinary portent. 
Next she saw him turn his eyes towards a table. On 
that table still lay the packet of Mr. Browning’s 
cakes. He “reminded me that the cakes you left 
were on the table”. They were now old cakes, stale 
cakes, cakes bereft of any carnal seduction. Flush’s 
meaning was plain. He had refused to eat the cakes 
when they were fresh, because they were offered 
by an enemy. He would eat them now that they 
were stale, because they were offered by an enemy 
turned to friend, because they were symbols of 
hatred turned to love. Yes, he signified, he would 
eat them now. So Miss Barrett rose and took the 
cakes in her hand. And as she gave them to him 
she admonished him, “So I explained to him that 
you had brought them for him, and that he ought 
to be properly ashamed therefore for his past 
wickedness, and make up his mind to love you and 
not bite you for the future—and he was allowed to 
profit from your goodness to him”. As he swallowed 
down the faded flakes of that distasteful pastry— 
it was mouldy, it was fly-blown, it was sour— 
Flush solemnly repeated, in his own language, 
the words she had used—he swore to love Mr. 
Browning and not bite him for the future. 



70 


FLUSH 


He was instantly rewarded—not by stale cakes, 
not by chicken’s wings, not by the caresses that 
were now his, nor by the permission to lie once 
more on the sofa at Miss Barrett’s feet. He was 
rewarded, spiritually; yet the effects were curiously 
physical. Like an iron bar corroding and festering 
and killing all natural life beneath it, hatred had 
lain all these months across his soul. Now, by the 
cutting of sharp knives and painful surgery, the 
iron had been excised. Now the blood ran once 
more; the nerves shot and tingled; flesh formed; 
Nature rejoiced, as in spring. Flush heard the birds 
sing again; he felt the leaves growing on the trees; 
as he lay on the sofa at Miss Barrett’s feet, glory and 
delight coursed through his veins. He was with 
them, not against them, now; their hopes, their 
wishes, their desires were his. Flush could have 
barked in sympathy with Mr. Browning now. The 
short, sharp words raised the hackles on his neck. 
CC I need a week of Tuesdays,” Mr. Browning cried, 
“then a month—a year—a life!” I, Flush echoed 
him, need a month—a year—a life! I need all the 
things that you both need. We are all three con¬ 
spirators in the most glorious of causes. We are 
joined in sympathy. We are joined in hatred. We 
are joined in defiance of black and beetling tyranny. 



THE HOODED MAN 


71 


We are joined in love.—In short, all Flush’s hopes 
now were set upon some dimly apprehended but 
none the less certainly emerging triumph, upon 
some glorious victory that was to be theirs in 
common, when suddenly, without a word of warn¬ 
ing, in the midst of civilisation, security and friend¬ 
ship—he was in a shop in Vere Street with Miss 
Barrett and her sister: it was the morning of Tues¬ 
day the 12th of September—Flush was tumbled 
head over heels into darkness. The doors of a dun¬ 
geon shut upon him. He was stolen. 



CHAPTER IV 


WHITECHAPEL 

“This morning Arabel and I, and he with us/ 5 
Miss Barrett wrote, “went in a cab to Vere Street 
where we had a little business, and he followed 
us as usual into a shop and out of it again, and 
was at my heels when I stepped up into the carriage. 
Having turned, I said ‘Flush 5 , and Arabel looked 
round for Flush—there was no Flush! He had been 
caught up in that moment, from under the wheels, 
do you understand? 55 Mr. Browning understood 
perfectly well. Miss Barrett had forgotten the chain; 
therefore Flush was stolen. Such, in the year 1846, 
was the law of Wimpole Street and its neighbour¬ 
hood. 

Nothing, it is true, could exceed the apparent 
solidity and security of Wimpole Street itself. As 
far as an invalid could walk or a bath-chair could 
trundle nothing met the eye but an agreeable pro¬ 
spect of four-storeyed houses, plate-glass windows 
and mahogany doors. Even a carriage and pair, 
72 



WHITECHAPEL 


73 


in the course of an afternoon’s airing, need not, 
if the coachman were discreet, leave the limits of 
decorum and respectability. But if you were not 
an invalid, if you did not possess a carriage and 
pair, if you were—and many people were—active 
and able-bodied and fond of walking, then you 
might see sights and hear language and smell 
smells, not a stone’s-throw from Wimpole Street, 
that threw doubts upon the solidity even of Wim¬ 
pole Street itself. So Mr. Thomas Beames found 
when about this time he took it into his head to go 
walking about London. He was surprised; indeed 
he was shocked. Splendid buildings raised them¬ 
selves in Westminster, yet just behind them were 
ruined sheds in which human beings lived herded 
together above herds of cows—“two in each seven 
feet of space”. He felt that he ought to tell people 
what he had seen. Yet how could one describe 
politely a bedroom in which two or three families 
lived above a cow-shed, when the cow-shed had no 
ventilation, when the cows were milked and killed 
and eaten under the bedroom? That was a task, 
as Mr. Beames found when he came to attempt it, 
that taxed all the resources of the English language. 
And yet he felt that he ought to describe what he 
had seen in the course of an afternoon’s walk 



74 


FLUSH 


through some of the most aristocratic parishes in 
London. The risk of typhus was so great. The rich 
could not know what dangers they were running. 
He could not altogether hold his tongue when he 
found what he did find in Westminster and 
Paddington and Marylebone. For instance, here 
was an old mansion formerly belonging to some 
great nobleman. Relics of marble mantelpieces 
remained. The rooms were panelled and the 
banisters were carved, and yet the floors were 
rotten, the walls dripped with filth; hordes of half- 
naked men and women had taken up their lodging 
in the old banqueting-halls. Then he walked on. 
Here an enterprising builder had pulled down the 
old family mansion. He had run up a jerry-built 
tenement house in its place. The rain dripped 
through the roof and the wind blew through the 
walls. He saw a child dipping a can into a bright- 
green stream and asked if they drank that water. 
Yes, and washed in it too, for the landlord only 
allowed water to be turned on twice a week. Such 
sights were the more surprising, because one might 
come upon them in the most sedate and civilised 
quarters of London—“the most aristocratic parishes 
have their share 59 . Behind Miss Barrett’s bedroom, 
for instance, was one of the worst slums in London. 



WHITECHAPEL 


75 


Mixed up with that respectability was this squalor. 
But there were certain quarters, of course, which 
had long been given over to the poor and were left 
undisturbed. In Whitechapel, or in a triangular 
space of ground at the bottom of the Tottenham 
Court Road, poverty and vice and misery had bred 
and seethed and propagated their kind for centuries 
without interference. A dense mass of aged build¬ 
ings in St. Giles’s was “wellnigh a penal settlement, 
a pauper metropolis in itself”. Aptly enough, where 
the poor conglomerated thus, the settlement was 
called a Rookery. For there human beings swarmed 
on top of each other as rooks swarm and blacken 
tree-tops. Only the buildings here were not trees; 
they were hardly any longer buildings. They were 
cells of brick intersected by lanes which ran with 
filth. All day the lanes buzzed with half-dressed 
human beings; at night there poured back again 
into the stream the thieves, beggars and prostitutes 
who had been plying their trade all day in the West 
End. The police could do nothing. No single way¬ 
farer could do anything except hurry through as 
fast as he could and perhaps drop a hint, as Mr. 
Beames did, with many quotations, evasions and 
euphemisms, that all was not quite as it should 
be. Cholera would come, and perhaps the hint 



76 


FLUSH 


that cholera would give would not be quite so 
evasive. 

But in the summer of 1846 that hint had not yet 
been given; and the only safe course for those who 
lived in Wimpole Street and its neighbourhood was 
to keep strictly within the respectable area and to 
lead your dog on a chain. If one forgot, as Miss 
Barrett forgot, one paid the penalty, as Miss Barrett 
was now to pay it. The terms upon which Wimpole 
Street lived cheek by jowl with St. Giles’s were 
well known. St. Giles’s stole what St. Giles’s could; 
Wimpole Street paid what Wimpole Street must. 
Thus Arabel at once “began to comfort me by 
showing how certain it was that I should recover 
him for ten pounds at most”. Ten pounds, it was 
reckoned, was about the price that Mr. Taylor 
would ask for a cocker spaniel. Mr. Taylor was the 
head of the gang. As soon as a lady in Wimpole 
Street lost her dog she went to Mr. Taylor; he 
named his price, and it was paid; or if not, a 
brown paper parcel was delivered in Wimpole 
Street a few days later containing the head and 
paws of the dog. Such, at least, had been the ex¬ 
perience of a lady in the neighbourhood who had 
tried to make terms with Mr. Taylor. But Miss 
Barrett of course intended to pay. Therefore when 



WHITECHAPEL 


77 


she got home she told her brother Henry, and 
Henry went to see Mr. Taylor that afternoon. He 
found him “smoking a cigar in a room with pic¬ 
tures”—Mr. Taylor was said to make an income 
of two or three thousand a year out of the dogs 
of Wimpole Street—and Mr. Taylor promised that 
he would confer with his “Society” and that the 
dog would be returned next day. Vexatious as it 
was, and especially annoying at a moment when 
Miss Barrett needed all her money, such were the 
inevitable consequences of forgetting in 1846 to 
keep one’s dog on a chain. 

But for Flush things were very different. Flush, 
Miss Barrett reflected, “doesn’t know that we can 
recover him”; Flush had never mastered the prin¬ 
ciples of human society. “All this night he will howl 
and lament, I know perfectly”, Miss Barrett wrote 
to Mr. Browning on the afternoon of Tuesday, the 
2nd September. But while Miss Barrett wrote to 
Mr. Browning, Flush was going through the most 
terrible experience of his life. He was bewildered 
in the extreme. One moment he was in Vere 
Street, among ribbons and laces; the next he 
was tumbled head over heels into a bag; jolted 
rapidly across streets, and at length was tumbled 
out—here. He found himself in complete darkness. 



78 


FLUSH 


He found himself in chillness and dampness. As 
his giddiness left him he made out a few shapes 
in a low dark room—broken chairs, a tumbled 
mattress. Then he was seized and tied tightly 
by the leg to some obstacle. Something sprawled 
on the floor—whether beast or human being, he 
could not tell. Great boots and draggled skirts kept 
stumbling in and out. Flies buzzed on scraps of 
old meat that were decaying on the floor. Children 
crawled out from dark corners and pinched his 
ears. He whined, and a heavy hand beat him over 
the head. He cowered down on the few inches of 
damp brick against the wall. Now he could see 
that the floor was crowded with animals of differ¬ 
ent kinds. Dogs tore and worried a festering bone 
that they had got between them. Their ribs stood 
out from their coats—they were half famished, 
dirty, diseased, uncombed, unbrushed; yet all of 
them, Flush could see, were dogs of the highest 
breeding, chained dogs, footmen’s dogs, like him¬ 
self. 

He lay, not daring even to whimper, hour after 
hour. Thirst was his worst suffering; but one sip 
of the thick greenish water that stood in a pail near 
him disgusted him; he would rather die than drink 
another. Yet a majestic greyhound was drinking 



WHITECHAPEL 


79 


greedily. Whenever the door was kicked open he 
looked up. Miss Barrett—was it Miss Barrett? Had 
she come at last? But it was only a hairy ruffian, 
who kicked them all aside and stumbled to a broken 
chair upon which he flung himself. Then gradually 
the darkness thickened. He could scarcely make 
out what shapes those were, on the floor, on the 
mattress, on the broken chairs. A stump of candle 
was stuck on the ledge over the fireplace. A flare 
burnt in the gutter outside. By ? its flickering, coarse 
light Flush could see terrible faces passing outside, 
leering at the window. Then in they came, until 
the small crowded room became so crowded that 
he had to shrink back and lie even closer against 
the wall. These horrible monsters—some were 
ragged, others were flaring with paint and feathers 
—squatted on the floor; hunched themselves over 
the table. They began to drink; they cursed and 
struck each other. Out tumbled, from the bags 
that were dropped on the floor, more dogs—lap- 
dogs, setters, pointers, with their collars still on 
them; and a giant cockatoo that flustered and 
fluttered its way from corner to corner, shrieking 
“Pretty Poll”, “Pretty Poll”, with an accent that 
would have terrified its mistress, a widow in Maida 
Vale. Then the women’s bags were opened, and 



8o 


FLUSH 


out were tossed on to the table bracelets and 
rings and brooches such as Flush had seen Miss 
Barrett wear and Miss Henrietta. The demons 
pawed and clawed them; cursed and quarrelled 
over them. The dogs barked. The children shrieked, 
and the splendid cockatoo—such a bird as Flush 
had often seen pendant in a Wimpole Street 
window—shrieked “Pretty Poll! Pretty Poll!” 
faster and faster until a slipper was thrown at it 
and it flapped its great yellow-stained dove-grey 
wings in frenzy. Then the candle toppled over and 
fell. The room was dark. It grew steadily hotter 
and hotter; the smell, the heat, were unbearable, 
Flush’s nose burnt; his coat twitched. And still 
Miss Barrett did not come. 

Miss Barrett lay on her sofa in Wimpole Street. 
She was vexed; she was worried, but she was not 
seriously alarmed. Of course Flush would suffer; 
he would whine and bark all night; but it was only 
a question of a few hours. Mr. Taylor would name 
his sum; she would pay it; Flush would be re¬ 
turned. 

The morning of Wednesday the 3rd September 
dawned in the rookeries of Whitechapel. The 
broken windows gradually became smeared with 
grey. Light fell upon the hairy faces of ruffians lying 




[ Reproduced by permission of the National 


MRS. BROWNING 



WHITECHAPEL 


8l 


sprawled upon the floor. Flush woke from a trance 
that had veiled his eyes and once more realised the 
truth. This was now the truth—this room, these 
ruffians, these whining, snapping, tightly tethered 
dogs, this murk, this dampness. Could it be true 
that he had been in a shop, with ladies, among 
ribbons, only yesterday? Was there such a place 
as Wimpole Street? Was there a room where fresh 
water sparkled in a purple jar; had he lain on 
cushions; had he been given a chicken’s wing 
nicely roasted; and had he been torn with rage and 
jealousy and bitten a man with yellow gloves? The 
whole of that life and its emotions floated away, 
dissolved, became unreal. 

Here, as the dusty light filtered in, a woman 
heaved herself off a sack and staggered out to fetch 
beer. The drinking and the cursing began again. 
A fat woman held him up by his ears and pinched 
his ribs, and some odious joke was made about 
him—there was a roar of laughter as she threw 
him on the floor again. The door was kicked open 
and banged to. Whenever that happened he 
looked up. Was it Wilson? Could it possibly be Mr. 
Browning? Or Miss Barrett? But no—it was only 
another thief, another murderer; he cowered back 
at the mere sight of those draggled skirts, of those 


F 



82 


FLUSH 


hard, horny boots. Once he tried to gnaw a bone 
that was hurled his way. But his teeth could not 
meet in stony flesh and the rank smell disgusted 
him. His thirst increased and he was forced to 
lap a little of the green water that had been spilt 
from the pail. But as Wednesday wore on and he 
became hotter and more parched and still more 
sore, lying on the broken boards, one thing merged 
in another. He scarcely noticed what was happen¬ 
ing. It was only when the door opened that he raised 
his head and looked. No, it was not Miss Barrett. 

Miss Barrett, lying on the sofa in Wimpole Street, 
was becoming anxious. There was some hitch in 
the proceedings. Taylor had promised that he would 
go down to Whitechapel on Wednesday afternoon 
and confer with “the Society”. Yet Wednesday 
afternoon, Wednesday evening passed and still 
Taylor did not come. This could only mean, she 
supposed, that the price was going to be raised 
—which was inconvenient enough at the moment. 
Still, of course, she would have to pay it. “I must 
have my Flush, you know”, she wrote to Mr. 
Browning. “I can’t run any risk and bargain and 
haggle.” So she lay on the sofa writing to Mr. 
Browning and listening for a knock at the door. 
But Wilson came up with the letters; Wilson came 



WHITECHAPEL 


83 


up with the hot water. It was time for bed and Flush 
had not come. 

Thursday the 4th of September dawned in 
Whitechapel. The door opened and shut. The red 
setter who had been whining all night beside Flush 
on the floor was hauled off by a ruffian in a mole¬ 
skin vest—to what fate? Was it better to be killed 
or to stay here? Which was worse—this life or that 
death? The racket, the hunger and the thirst, the 
reeking smells of the place—and once, Flush re¬ 
membered, he had detested the scent of eau-de- 
Cologne—were fast obliterating any clear image, 
any single desire. Fragments of old memories began 
turning in his head. Was that the voice of old Dr. 
Mitford shouting in the field? Was that Keren- 
happoch gossiping with the baker at the door? 
There was a rattling in the room and he thought 
he heard Miss Mitford tying up a bunch of 
geraniums. But it was only the wind—for it was 
stormy to-day—battering at the brown paper in 
the broken window pane. It was only some drunken 
voice raving in the gutter. It was only the old hag 
in the corner mumbling on and on and on as she 
fried a herring in a pan over a fire. He had been 
forgotten and deserted. No help was coming. No 
voice spoke to him—the parrots cried “Pretty Poll, 



84 


FLUSH 


Pretty Poll 55 , and the canaries kept up their sense¬ 
less cheeping and chirping. 

Then again evening darkened the room; the 
candle was stuck in its saucer; the coarse light 
flared outside; hordes of sinister men with bags on 
their backs, of garish women with painted faces, 
began to shuffle in at the door and to fling them¬ 
selves down on the broken beds and tables. Another 
night had folded its blackness over Whitechapel. 
And the rain dripped steadily through a hole in 
the roof and drummed into a pail that had been 
stood to catch it. Miss Barrett had not come. 

Thursday dawned in Wimpole Street. There 
was no sign of Flush—no message from Taylor. 
Miss Barrett was very much alarmed. She made 
enquiries. She summoned her brother Henry, and 
cross-examined him. She found out that he had 
tricked her. “The archfiend 55 Taylor had come 
according to his promise the night before. He had 
stated his terms—six guineas for the Society and 
half a guinea for himself. But Henry, instead of 
telling her, had told Mr. Barrett, with the result, 
of course, that Mr. Barrett had ordered him not 
to pay, and to conceal the visit from his sister. 
Miss Barrett was “very vexed and angry 55 . She 
bade her brother to go at once to Mr. Taylor and 



WHITECHAPEL 


85 


pay the money. Henry refused and “talked of 
Papa 55 . But it was no use talking of Papa, she 
protested. While they talked of Papa, Flush would 
be killed. She made up her mind. If Henry would 
not go, she would go herself: “. . .if people won’t 
do as I choose, I shall go down to-morrow morn¬ 
ing, and bring Flush back with me 55 , she wrote to 
Mr. Browning. 

But Miss Barrett now found that it was easier 
to say this than to do it. It was almost as difficult for 
her to go to Flush as for Flush to come to her. All 
Wimpole Street was against her. The news that 
Flush was stolen and that Taylor demanded a 
ransom was now public property. Wimpole Street 
was determined to make a stand against White¬ 
chapel. Blind Mr. Boyd sent word that in his opinion 
it would be “an awful sin 55 to pay the ransom. Her 
father and her brother were in league against her 
and were capable of any treachery in the interests 
of their class. But worst of all—far worse—Mr. 
Browning himself threw all his weight, all his 
eloquence, all his learning, all his logic, on the side 
of Wimpole Street and against Flush. If Miss 
Barrett gave way to Taylor, he wrote, she was 
giving way to tyranny; she was giving way to 
blackmailers; she was increasing the power of evil 



86 


FLUSH 


over right, of wickedness over innocence. If she 
gave Taylor his demand, “. . . how will the poor 
owners fare who have not money enough for 
their dogs’ redemption”? His imagination took 
fire; he imagined what he would say if Taylor 
asked him even for five shillings; he would say, 
“Tou are responsible for the proceedings of your 
gang, and you I mark—don’t talk nonsense to me 
about cutting off heads or paws. Be as sure as that 
I stand here and tell you, I will spend my whole 
life in putting you down, the nuisance you declare 
yourself—and by every imaginable means I will 
be the death of you and as many of your accom¬ 
plices as I can discover—but you I have discovered 
and will never lose sight of. ...” So Mr. Browning 
would have replied to Taylor if he had had the good 
fortune to meet that gentleman. For indeed, he 
went on, catching a later post with a second letter 
that same Thursday afternoon, . . it is horrible 
to fancy how all the oppressors in their several 
ranks may, if they choose, twitch back to them by 
the heartstrings after various modes the weak and 
silent whose secret they have found out”. He did 
not blame Miss Barrett—nothing she did could be 
anything but perfectly right, perfectly acceptable 
to him. Still, he continued on Friday morning, “I 



WHITECHAPEL 


87 


think it lamentable weakness. .If she encouraged 
Taylor who stole dogs, she encouraged Mr. Barnard 
Gregory who stole characters. Indirectly, she was 
responsible for all the wretches who cut their 
throats or fly the country because some black¬ 
mailer like Barnard Gregory took down a directory 
and blasted their characters. “But why write all this 
string of truisms about the plainest thing in the 
world?” So Mr. Browning stormed and vociferated 
from New Cross twice daily. 

Lying on her sofa, Miss Barrett read the letters. 
How easy it would have been to yield—how easy 
it would have been to say, “Your good opinion is 
worth more to me than a hundred cocker spaniels”. 
How easy it would have been to sink back on her 
pillows and sigh, “I am a weak woman; I know 
nothing of law and justice; decide for me”. She had 
only to refuse to pay the ransom; she had only to 
defy Taylor and his Society. And if Flush were 
killed, if the dreadful parcel came and she opened 
it and out dropped his head and paws, there was 
Robert Browning by her side to assure her that she 
had done right and earned his respect. But Miss 
Barrett was not to be intimidated. Miss Barrett took 
up her pen and refuted Robert Browning. It was 
all very well, she said, to quote Donne; to cite 



88 


FLUSH 


the case of Gregory; to invent spirited replies to 
Mr. Taylor—she would have done the same had 
Taylor struck her; had Gregory defamed her;— 
would that they had! But what would Mr. Brown¬ 
ing have done if the banditti had stolen her; had 
her in their power; threatened to cut off her ears 
and send them by post to New Cross? Whatever he 
would have done, her mind was made up. Flush 
was helpless. Her duty was to him. “But Flush, 
poor Flush, who has loved me so faithfully; have 
I a right to sacrifice him in his innocence, for the 
sake of any Mr. Taylor’s guilt in the world? 55 What¬ 
ever Mr. Browning might say, she was going to 
rescue Flush, even if she went down into the 
jaws of Whitechapel to fetch him, even if Robert 
Browning despised her for doing so. 

On Saturday, therefore, with Mr. Browning’s 
letter lying open on the table before her, she began 
to dress. She read his “one word more—in all this, 
I labour against the execrable policy of the world’s 
husbands, fathers, brothers and domineerers in 
general 55 . So, if she went to Whitechapel she was 
siding against Robert Browning, and in favour of 
fathers, brothers and domineerers in general. Still, 
she went on dressing. A dog howled in the mews. 
It was tied up, helpless in the power of cruel men. 



WHITECHAPEL 


89 


It seemed to her to cry as it howled: “Think of 
Flush 55 . She put on her shoes, her cloak, her hat. 
She glanced at Mr. Browning’s letter once more. 
“I am about to marry you”, she read. Still the 
dog howled. She left her room and went down- 
stairs. 

Henry Barrett met her and told her that in his 
opinion she might well be robbed and murdered 
if she did what she threatened. She told Wilson to 
call a cab. All trembling but submissive, Wilson 
obeyed. The cab came. Miss Barrett told Wilson 
to get in. Wilson, though convinced that death 
awaited her, got in. Miss Barrett told the cab¬ 
man to drive to Manning Street, Shoreditch. Miss 
Barrett got in herself and off they drove. Soon they 
were beyond plate-glass windows, the mahogany 
doors and the area railings. They were in a world 
that Miss Barrett had never seen, had never 
guessed at. They were in a world where cows are 
herded under bedroom floors, where whole families 
sleep in rooms with broken windows; in a world 
where water is turned on only twice a week, in a 
world where vice and poverty breed vice and 
poverty. They had come to a region unknown to 
respectable cab-drivers. The cab stopped; the 
driver asked his way at a public-house. “Out came 



90 


FLUSH 


two or three men. c Oh, you want to find Mr. 
Taylor, I daresay!’ 95 In this mysterious world a cab 
with two ladies could only come upon one errand, 
and that errand was already known. It was sinister 
in the extreme. One of the men ran into a house, 
and came out saying that Mr. Taylor “ c wasn’t at 
home! but wouldn’t I get out?’ Wilson, in an 
aside of terror, entreated me not to think of such 
a thing.” A gang of men and boys pressed round 
the cab. “Then wouldn’t I see Mrs. Taylor?” the 
man asked. Miss Barrett had no wish whatever to see 
Mrs. Taylor; but now an immense fat woman came 
out of the house, “fat enough to have had an easy 
conscience all her life”, and informed Miss Barrett 
that her husband was out: “might be in in a few 
minutes, or in so many hours—wouldn’t I like to 
get out and wait?” Wilson tugged at her gown. 
Imagine waiting in the house of that woman! It was 
bad enough to sit in the cab with the gang of men 
and boys pressing round them. So Miss Barrett par¬ 
leyed with the “immense feminine bandit” from the 
cab. Mr. Taylor had her dog, she said; Mr. Taylor 
had promised to restore her dog; would Mr. Taylor 
bring back her dog to Wimpole Street for certain 
that very day? “Oh yes, certainly,” said the fat 
woman with the most gracious of smiles. She did 



WHITECHAPEL 


91 


believe that Taylor had left home precisely on that 
business. And she “poised her head to right and 
left with the most easy grace”. 

So the cab turned round and left Manning 
Street, Shoreditch. Wilson was of opinion that “we 
had escaped with our lives barely”. Miss Barrett 
herself had been alarmed. “Plain enough it was 
that the gang was strong there. The Society, the 
Taney’ . . . had their roots in the ground”, she 
wrote. Her mind teemed with thoughts, her eyes 
were full of pictures. This, then, was what lay on 
the other side of Wimpole Street—these faces, 
these houses. She had seen more while she sat in 
the cab at the public-house than she had seen 
during the five years that she had lain in the back 
bedroom at Wimpole Street. “The faces of those 
men!” she exclaimed. They were branded on her 
eyeballs. They stimulated her imagination as “the 
divine marble presences”, the busts on the book¬ 
case, had never stimulated it. Here lived women 
like herself; while she lay on her sofa, reading, 
writing, they lived thus. But the cab was now 
trundling along between four-storeyed houses again. 
Here was the familiar avenue of doors and win¬ 
dows: the pointed brick, the brass knockers, the 
regular curtains. Here was Wimpole Street and 



92 


FLUSH 


No. 50. Wilson sprang out—with what relief to 
find herself in safety can be imagined. But Miss 
Barrett perhaps hesitated a moment. She still saw 
“the faces of those men”. They were to come 
before her again years later when she sat writing 
on a sunny balcony in Italy. They were to inspire 
the most vivid passages in Aurora Leigh . But now the 
butler had opened the door, and she went upstairs 
to her room again. 

Saturday was the fifth day of Flush’s imprison¬ 
ment. Almost exhausted, almost hopeless, he lay 
panting in his dark corner of the teeming floor. 
Doors slammed and banged. Rough voices cried. 
Women screamed. Parrots chattered as they had 
never chattered to widows in Maida Vale, but now 
evil old women merely cursed at them. Insects 
crawled in his fur, but he was too weak, too in¬ 
different to shake his coat. All Flush’s past life and 
its many scenes—Reading, the greenhouse, Miss 
Mitford, Mr. Kenyon, the bookcases, the busts, the 
peasants on the blind—had faded like snowflakes 
dissolved in a cauldron. If he still held to hope, 
it was to something nameless and formless; the 
featureless face of someone he still called “Miss 
Barrett”. She still existed; all the rest of the world 
was gone; but she still existed, though such gulfs 



WHITECHAPEL 


93 


lay between them that it was impossible, almost, 
that she should reach him still. Darkness began to 
fall again, such darkness as seemed almost able to 
crush out his last hope—Miss Barrett. 

In truth, the forces of Wimpole Street were still, 
even at this last moment, battling to keep Flush 
and Miss Barrett apart. On Saturday afternoon she 
lay and waited for Taylor to come, as the immensely 
fat woman had promised. At last he came, but he 
had not brought the dog. He sent up a message— 
Let Miss Barrett pay him six guineas on the spot, 
and he would go straight to Whitechapel and fetch 
the dog “on his word of honour 55 . What “the arch¬ 
fiend 55 Taylor’s word of honour might be worth, 
Miss Barrett could not say; but “there seemed no 
other way for it 55 ; Flush’s life was at stake; she 
counted out the guineas and sent them down to 
Taylor in the passage. But as ill luck would have 
it, as Taylor waited in the passage among the um¬ 
brellas, the engravings, the pile carpet and other 
valuable objects, Alfred Barrett came in. The sight 
of the archfiend actually in the house made him 
lose his temper. He burst into a rage. He called 
him “a swindler, and a liar and a thief 55 . There¬ 
upon Mr. Taylor cursed him back. What was far 
worse, he swore that “as he hoped to be saved, we 



94 


FLUSH 


should never see our dog again 55 , and rushed out 
of the house. Next morning, then, the blood¬ 
stained parcel would arrive. 

Miss Barrett flung on her clothes again and 
rushed downstairs. Where was Wilson? Let her call 
a cab. She was going back to Shoreditch instantly. 
Her family came running to prevent her. It was 
getting dark. She was exhausted already. The 
adventure was risky enough for a man in health. 
For her it was madness. So they told her. Her 
brothers, her sisters, all came round her threatening 
her, dissuading her, £ ‘crying out against me for 
being ‘quite mad 5 and obstinate and wilful—I was 
called as many names as Mr. Taylor 55 . But she 
stood her ground. At last they realised the extent 
of her folly. Whatever the risk might be they must 
give way to her. Septimus promised if Ba would 
return to her room “and be in good humour 55 he 
would go to Taylor’s himself and pay the money 
and bring back the dog. 

So the dusk of the 5th of September faded into 
the blackness of night in Whitechapel. The door 
of the room was once more kicked open. A hairy 
man hauled Flush by the scruff of his neck out of 
his corner. Looking up into the hideous face of his 
old enemy, Flush did not know whether he was 



WHITECHAPEL 


95 


being taken to be killed or to be freed. Save for one 
phantom memory, he did not care. The man 
stooped. What were those great fingers fumbling 
at his throat for? Was it a knife or a chain? Stumb¬ 
ling, half blinded, on legs that staggered, Flush was 
led out into the open air. 

In Wimpole Street Miss Barrett could not eat 
her dinner. Was Flush dead, or was Flush alive? She 
did not know. At eight o’clock there was a rap on 
the door; it was the usual letter from Mr. Browning. 
But as the door opened to admit the letter, some¬ 
thing rushed in also;—Flush. He made straight for 
his purple jar. It was filled three times over; and 
still he drank. Miss Barrett watched the dazed, 
bewildered dirty dog, drinking. “He was not so 
enthusiastic about seeing me as I expected”, she 
remarked. No, there was only one thing in the 
world he wanted—clean water. 

After all, Miss Barrett had but glanced at the 
faces of those men and she remembered them all 
her life. Flush had been at their mercy in their 
midst for five whole days. Now as he lay on cushions 
once more, cold water was the only thing that 
seemed to have any substance, any reality. He 
drank continually. The old gods of the bedroom— 
the bookcase, the wardrobe, the busts—seemed to 



96 


FLUSH 


have lost their substance. This room was no longer 
the whole world; it was only a shelter. It was only 
a dell arched over by one trembling dock-leaf in 
a forest where wild beasts prowled and venomous 
snakes coiled; where behind every tree lurked a 
murderer ready to pounce. As he lay dazed and 
exhausted on the sofa at Miss Barrett’s feet the 
howls of tethered dogs, the screams of birds in 
terror still sounded in his ears. When the door 
opened he started, expecting a hairy man with a 
knife—it was only Mr. Kenyon with a book; it was 
only Mr. Browning with his yellow gloves. But he 
shrank away from Mr. Kenyon and Mr. Browning 
now. He trusted them no longer. Behind those 
smiling, friendly faces was treachery and cruelty 
and deceit. Their caresses were hollow. He dreaded 
even walking with Wilson to the pillar-box. He 
would not stir without his chain. When they said, 
“Poor Flush, did the naughty men take you away?” 
he put up his head and moaned and yelled. A whip 
cracking sent him bolting down the area-steps into 
safety. Indoors he crept closer to Miss Barrett on 
the sofa. She alone had not deserted him. He still 
kept some faith in her. Gradually some substance 
returned to her. Exhausted, trembling, dirty and 
very thin, he lay on the sofa at her feet. 



WHITECHAPEL 


97 


As the days passed and the memory of White¬ 
chapel grew fainter, Flush, lying close to Miss 
Barrett on the sofa, read her feelings more clearly 
than ever before. They had been parted; now they 
were together. Indeed they had never been so much 
akin. Every start she gave, every movement she 
made, passed through him too. And she seemed 
now to be perpetually starting and moving. The 
delivery of a parcel even made her jump. She 
opened the parcel; with trembling fingers she took 
out a pair of thick boots. She hid them instantly in 
the corner of the cupboard. Then she lay down as 
if nothing had happened; yet something had hap¬ 
pened. When they were alone she rose and took 
a diamond necklace from a drawer. She took out the 
box that held Mr. Browning’s letters. She laid the 
boots, the necklace and the letters all in a carpet- 
box together and then—as if she heard a step on the 
stair—she pushed the box under the bed and lay 
down hastily, covering herself with her shawl again. 
Such signs of secrecy and stealth must herald, Flush 
felt, some approaching crisis. Were they about to fly 
together? Were they about to escape together from 
this awful world of dog-stealers and tyrants? Oh 
that it were possible! He trembled and whined with 
excitement; but in her low voice Miss Barrett bade 


G 



98 


FLUSH 


him be quiet, and instantly he was quiet. She was 
very quiet too. She lay perfectly still on the sofa 
directly any of her brothers or sisters came in; she 
lay and talked to Mr. Barrett as she always lay and 
talked to Mr. Barrett. 

But on Saturday, the 12th of September, Miss 
Barrett did what Flush had never known her do 
before. She dressed herself as if to go out directly 
after breakfast. Moreover, as he watched her dress, 
Flush knew perfectly well from the expression on 
her face that he was not to go with her. She was 
bound on secret business of her own. At ten Wilson 
came into the room. She also was dressed as if for 
a walk. They went out together; and Flush lay on 
the sofa and waited for their return. An hour or so 
later Miss Barrett came back alone. She did not look 
at him—she seemed to look at nothing. She drew 
off her gloves and for a moment he saw a gold band 
shine on one of the fingers of her left hand. Then 
he saw her slip the ring from her hand and hide it 
in the darkness of a drawer. Then she laid her¬ 
self down as usual on the sofa. He lay by her 
side scarcely daring to breathe, for whatever had 
happened, it was something that must at all costs 
be concealed. 

At all costs the life of the bedroom must go on 



WHITECHAPEL 


99 


as usual. Yet everything was different. The very 
movement of the blind as it drew in and out seemed 
to Flush like a signal. And as the lights and shadows 
passed over the busts they too seemed to be hinting 
and beckoning. Everything in the room seemed to 
be aware of change; to be prepared for some event. 
And yet all was silent; all was concealed. The 
brothers and sisters came in and out as usual; Mr. 
Barrett came as usual in the evening. He looked 
as usual to see that the chop was finished, the 
wine drunk. Miss Barrett talked and laughed and 
gave no sign when anyone was in the room that 
she was hiding anything. Yet when they were 
alone she pulled out the box from under the bed 
and filled it hastily, stealthily, listening as she did 
so. And the signs of strain were unmistakable. On 
Sunday the church bells were ringing. “What bells 
are those? 55 somebody asked. “Marylebone Church 
bells 55 , said Miss Henrietta. Miss Barrett, Flush 
saw, went deadly white. But nobody else seemed 
to notice anything. 

So Monday passed, and Tuesday and Wednesday 
and Thursday. Over them all lay a blanket of 
silence, of eating and talking and lying still on the 
sofa as usual. Flush, tossing in uneasy sleep, dreamt 
that they were couched together under ferns and 



100 


FLUSH 


leaves in the darkness, in a vast forest; then the 
leaves were parted and he woke. It was dark; but 
he saw Wilson come stealthily into the room, and 
take the box from beneath the bed and quietly 
carry it outside. This was on Friday night, the 
19th of September. All Saturday morning he lay 
as one lies who knows that at any moment now a 
handkerchief may drop, a low whistle may sound 
and the signal will be given for death or for life. He 
watched Miss Barrett dress herself. At a quarter 
to four the door opened and Wilson came in. Then 
the signal was given—Miss Barrett lifted him in her 
arms. She rose and walked to the door. For a 
moment they stood looking round the room. There 
was the sofa and by it Mr. Browning’s armchair. 
There were the busts and the tables. The sun filtered 
through the ivy leaves and the blind with peasants 
walking blew gently out. All was as usual. All seemed 
to expect a million more such movements to come 
to them; but to Miss Barrett and Flush this was 
the last. Very quietly Miss Barrett shut the door. 

Very quietly they slipped downstairs, past the 
drawing-room, the library, the dining-room. All 
looked as they usually looked; smelt as they usually 
smelt; all were quiet as if sleeping in the hot Sep¬ 
tember afternoon. On the mat in the hall Catiline 



WHITECHAPEL 


IOI 


lay sleeping too. They gained the front door and 
very quietly turned the handle. A cab was waiting 
outside. 

“To Hodgson said Miss Barrett. She spoke 
almost in a whisper. Flush sat on her knee very 
still. Not for anything in the whole world would 
he have broken that tremendous silence. 



CHAPTER V 


ITALY 

Hours, days, weeks, it seemed of darkness and 
rattling; of sudden lights; and then long tunnels of 
gloom; of being flung this way and that; of being 
hastily lifted into the light and seeing Miss Barrett’s 
face close, and thin trees and lines and rails and 
high light-specked houses—for it was the barbarous 
custom of railways in those days to make dogs 
travel in boxes—followed. Yet Flush was not 
afraid; they were escaping; they were leaving 
tyrants and dog-stealers behind them. Rattle, 
grind; grind, rattle as much as you like, he mur¬ 
mured, as the train flung him this way and that; 
only let us leave Wimpole Street and Whitechapel 
behind us. At last the light broadened; the rattling 
stopped. He heard birds singing and the sigh of 
trees in the wind. Or was it the rush of water? 
Opening his eyes at last, shaking his coat at last, 
he saw—the most astonishing sight conceivable. 
There was Miss Barrett on a rock in the midst of 


102 



ITALY 


103 


rushing waters. Trees bent over her; the river 
raced round her. She must be in peril. With one 
bound Flush splashed through the stream and 
reached her. ££ ... he is baptized in Petrarch’s name”, 
said Miss Barrett as he clambered up on to the rock 
by her side. For they were at Vaucluse; she had 
perched herself upon a stone in the middle of 
Petrarch’s fountain. 

Then there was more rattling and more grind¬ 
ing; and then again he was stood down on a stable 
floor; the darkness opened; light poured over him; 
he found himself alive, awake, bewildered, stand¬ 
ing on reddish tiles in a vast bare room flooded with 
sunshine. He ran hither and thither smelling and 
touching. There was no carpet and no fireplace. 
There were no sofas, no armchairs, no bookcases, 
no busts. Pungent and unfamiliar smells tickled 
his nostrils and made him sneeze. The light, 
infinitely sharp and clear, dazzled his eyes. He had 
never been in a room—if this were indeed a room 
—that was so hard, so bright, so big, so empty. 
Miss Barrett looked smaller than ever sitting on a 
chair by a table in the midst. Then Wilson took 
him out of doors. He found himself almost blinded, 
first by the sun, then by the shadow. One half of 
the street was burning hot; the other bitterly cold. 



io4 


FLUSH 


Women went by wrapped in furs, yet they carried 
parasols to shade their heads. And the street was dry 
as bone. Though it was now the middle of November 
there was neither mud nor puddle to wet his paws or 
clot their feathers. There were no areas and no rail¬ 
ings. There was none of that heady confusion of smells 
that made a walk down Wimpole Street or Oxford 
Street so distracting. On the other hand, the strange 
new smells that came from sharp stone corners, 
from dry yellow walls, were extraordinarily pun¬ 
gent and queer. Then from behind a black swinging 
curtain came an astonishing sweet smell, wafted 
in clouds; he stopped, his paws raised, to savour 
it; he made to follow it inside; he pushed in be¬ 
neath the curtain. He had one glimpse of a booming 
light-sprinkled hall, very high and hollow; and 
then Wilson with a cry of horror, jerked him smartly 
back. They went on down the street again. The 
noise of the street was deafening. Everybody 
seemed to be shouting shrilly at the same moment. 
Instead of the solid and soporific hum of London 
there was a rattling and a crying, a jingling and 
a shouting, a cracking of whips and a jangling of 
bells. Flush leapt and jumped this way and that, 
and so did Wilson. They were forced on and off the 
pavement twenty times, to avoid a cart, a bullock, 



ITALY 


. 105 


a troop of soldiers, a drove of goats. He felt younger, 
spryer than he had done these many years. Dazzled, 
yet exhilarated, he sank on the reddish tiles and 
slept more soundly than he had ever slept in the 
back bedroom at Wimpole Street upon pillows. 

But soon Flush became aware of the more pro¬ 
found differences that distinguish Pisa—for it was in 
Pisa that they were now settled—from London. The 
dogs were different. In London he could scarcely 
trot round to the pillar-box without meeting some 
pug dog, retriever, bulldog, mastiff, collie, New¬ 
foundland, St. Bernard, fox terrier or one of the 
seven famous families of the Spaniel tribe. To each 
he gave a different name, and to each a different 
rank. But here in Pisa, though dogs abounded, 
there were no ranks; all—could it be possible?— 
were mongrels. As far as he could see, they were 
dogs merely—grey dogs, yellow dogs, brindled 
dogs, spotted dogs; but it was impossible to detect 
a single spaniel, collie, retriever or mastiff among 
them. Had the Kennel Club, then, no jurisdiction 
in Italy? Was the Spaniel Club unknown? Was 
there no law which decreed death to the topknot, 
which cherished the curled ear, protected the 
feathered foot, and insisted absolutely that the 
brow must be domed but not pointed? Apparently 



io6 


FLUSH 


not. Flush felt himself like a prince in exile. He was 
the sole aristocrat among a crowd of canaille. He 
was the only pure-bred cocker spaniel in the whole 
of Pisa. 

For many years now Flush had been taught to 
consider himself an aristocrat. The law of the purple 
jar and of the chain had sunk deep into his soul. 
It is scarcely surprising that he was thrown off his 
balance. A Howard or a Cavendish set down 
among a swarm of natives in mud huts can hardly 
be blamed if now and again he remembers Chats- 
worth and muses regretfully over red carpets and 
galleries daubed with coronets as the sunset blazes 
down through painted windows. There was an 
element, it must be admitted, of the snob in Flush; 
Miss Mitford had detected it years ago; and the 
sentiment, subdued in London among equals and 
superiors, returned to him now that he felt himself 
unique. He became overbearing and impudent. 

4 'Flush has grown an absolute monarch and barks 
one distracted when he wants a door opened”, 
Mrs. Browning wrote. "Robert”, she continued, 
"declares that the said Flush considers him, my 
husband, to be created for the especial purpose of 
doing him service, and really it looks rather like 
it.” 



ITALY 


107 


“Robert”, “my husband”—if Flush had changed, 
so had Miss Barrett. It was not merely that she 
called herself Mrs. Browning now; that she flashed 
the gold ring on her hand in the sun; she was 
changed, as much as Flush was changed. Flush 
heard her say “Robert”, “my husband”, fifty times 
a day, and always with a ring of pride that made 
his hackles rise and his heart jump. But it was not 
her language only that had changed. She was a 
different person altogether. Now, for instance, 
instead of sipping a thimbleful of port and com¬ 
plaining of the headache, she tossed off a tumbler 
of Chianti and slept the sounder. There was a 
flowering branch of oranges on the dinner-table 
instead of one denuded, sour, yellow fruit. Then 
instead of driving in a barouche landau to Regent’s 
Park she pulled on her thick boots and scrambled 
over rocks. Instead of sitting in a carriage and 
rumbling along Oxford Street, they rattled off in 
a ramshackle fly to the borders of a lake and looked 
at mountains; and when she was tired she did not 
hail another cab; she sat on a stone and watched 
the lizards. She delighted in the sun; she delighted 
in the cold. She threw pine logs from the Duke’s 
forest on to the fire if it froze. They sat together 
in the crackling blaze and snuffed up the sharp, 



108 FLUSH 


aromatic scent. She was never tired of praising Italy 
at the expense of England. cc . . . our poor English 55 , 
she exclaimed, “want educating into gladness. They 
want refining not in the fire but in the sunshine. 55 
Here in Italy was freedom and life and the joy that 
the sun breeds. One never saw men fighting, or 
heard them swearing; one never saw the Italians 
drunk;—“the faces of those men 55 in Shoreditch 
came again before her eyes. She was always com¬ 
paring Pisa with London and saying how much she 
preferred Pisa. In the streets of Pisa pretty women 
could walk alone; great ladies first emptied their 
own slops and then went to Court “in a blaze of 
undeniable glory 55 . Pisa with all its bells, its 
mongrels, its camels, its pine woods, was infinitely 
preferable to Wimpole Street and its mahogany 
doors and its shoulders of mutton. So Mrs. Brown¬ 
ing every day, as she tossed off her Chianti and 
broke another orange from the branch, praised 
Italy and lamented poor, dull, damp, sunless, joy¬ 
less, expensive, conventional England. 

Wilson, it is true, for a time maintained her 
British balance. The memory of butlers and base¬ 
ments, of front doors and curtains^ was not obliter¬ 
ated from her mind without an effort. She still 
had the conscience to walk out of a picture gallery 



ITALY 


109 


“struck back by the indecency of the Venus 55 . And 
later, when she was allowed, by the kindness of a 
friend, to peep through a door at the glories of the 
Grand Ducal Court, she still loyally upheld the 
superior glory of St. James’s. “It . . . was all very 
shabby 55 , she reported, “in comparison with our 
English Court. 55 But even as she gazed, the superb 
figure of one of the Grand Duke’s bodyguard 
caught her eye. Her fancy was fired; her judgement 
reeled; her standards toppled. Lily Wilson fell 
passionately in love with Signor Righi, the guards¬ 
man. 

And just as Mrs. Browning was exploring her 
new freedom and delighting in the discoveries she 
made, so Flush too was making his discoveries and 
exploring his freedom. Before they left Pisa—in 
the spring of 1847 they moved on to Florence— 
Flush had faced the curious and at first upsetting 
truth that the laws of the Kennel Club are not 
universal. He had brought himself to face the fact 
that light topknots are not necessarily fatal. He 
had revised his code accordingly. He had acted, 
at first with some hesitation, upon his new concep¬ 
tion of canine society. He was becoming daily more 
and more democratic. Even in Pisa, Mrs. Browning 
noticed, “. . . he goes out every day and speaks 



no 


FLUSH 


Italian to the little dogs’ 5 . Now in Florence the last 
threads of his old fetters fell from him. The moment 
of liberation came one day in the Cascine. As he 
raced over the grass “like emeralds” with “the 
pheasants all alive and flying”, Flush suddenly 
bethought him of Regent’s Park and its proclama¬ 
tion: Dogs must be led on chains. Where was 
“must” now? Where were chains now? Where were 
park-keepers and truncheons? Gone, with the dog- 
stealers and Kennel Clubs and Spaniel Clubs of 
a corrupt aristocracy! Gone with four-wheelers and 
hansom cabs! with Whitechapel and Shoreditch! 
He ran, he raced; his coat flashed; his eyes blazed. 
He was the friend of all the world now. All dogs 
were his brothers. He had no need of a chain in 
this new world; he had no need of protection. If 
Mr. Browning was late in going for his walk—he 
and Flush were the best of friends now—Flush 
boldly summoned him. He “stands up before him 
and barks in the most imperious manner possible”, 
Mrs. Browning observed with some irritation— 
for her relations with Flush were far less emotional 
now than in the old days; she no longer needed 
his red fur and his bright eyes to give her what her 
own experience lacked; she had found Pan for her¬ 
self among the vineyards and the olive trees; he 



ITALY 


III 


was there too beside the pine fire of an evening. 
So if Mr. Browning loitered, Flush stood up and 
barked; but if Mr. Browning preferred to stay at 
home and write, it did not matter. Flush was in¬ 
dependent now. The wistarias and the laburnum 
were flowering over walls; the judas trees were 
burning bright in the gardens; the wild tulips were 
sprinkled in the fields. Why should he wait? Off 
he ran by himself. He was his own master now. 
<c . . . he goes out by himself, and stays hours to¬ 
gether’ 5 , Mrs. Browning wrote; cc . . . knows every 
street in Florence—will have his own way in every¬ 
thing. I am never frightened at his absence 55 , she 
added, remembering with a smile those hours of 
agony in Wimpole Street and the gang waiting to 
snatch him up under the horses 5 feet if she forgot 
his chain in Vere Street. Fear was unknown in 
Florence; there were no dog-stealers here and, she 
may have sighed, there were no fathers. 

But, to speak candidly, it was not to stare at 
pictures, to penetrate into dark churches and look 
up at dim frescoes, that Flush scampered off when 
the door of Casa Guidi was left open. It was to 
enjoy something, it was in search of something 
denied him all these years. Once the hunting horn 
of Venus had blown its wild music over the Berk- 



112 


FLUSH 


shire fields; he had loved Mr. Partridge’s dog; she 
had borne him a child. Now he heard the same 
voice pealing down the narrow streets of Florence, 
but more imperiously, more impetuously, after all 
these years of silence. Now Flush knew what men 
can never know—love pure, love simple, love 
entire; love that brings no train of care in its wake; 
that has no shame; no remorse; that is here, that 
is gone, as the bee on the flower is here and is gone. 
To-day the flower is a rose, to-morrow a lily; now 
it is the wild thistle on the moor, now the pouched 
and portentous orchid of the conservatory. So 
variously, so carelessly Flush embraced the spotted 
spaniel down the alley, and the brindled dog and 
the yellow dog—it did not matter which. To Flush 
it was all the same. He followed the horn wherever 
the horn blew and the wind wafted it. Love was 
all; love was enough. No one blamed him for his 
escapades. Mr. Browning merely laughed—“Quite 
disgraceful for a respectable dog like him 55 —when 
Flush returned very late at night or early the next 
morning. And Mrs. Browning laughed too, as 
Flush flung himself down on the bedroom floor and 
slept soundly upon the arms of the Guidi family 
inlaid in scagliola. 

For at Gasa Guidi the rooms were bare. All those 



ITALY 


”3 


draped objects of his cloistered and secluded days 
had vanished. The bed was a bed; the wash-stand 
was a wash-stand. Everything was itself and not 
another thing. The drawing-room was large and 
sprinkled with a few old carved chairs of ebony. 
Over the fire hung a mirror with two cupids to 
hold the lights. Mrs. Browning herself had dis¬ 
carded her Indian shawls. She wore a cap made of 
some thin bright silk that her husband liked. Her 
hair was brushed in a new way. And when the sun 
had gone down and the shutters had been raised 
she paced the balcony dressed in thin white muslin. 
She loved to sit there looking, listening, watching 
the people in the street. 

They had not been long in Florence before one 
night there was such a shouting and trampling in 
the street that they ran to the balcony to see what 
was happening. A vast crowd was surging under¬ 
neath. They were carrying banners and shouting 
and singing. All the windows were full of faces; all 
the balconies were full of figures. The people in the 
windows were tossing flowers and laurel leaves on 
to the people in the street; and the people in the 
street grave men, gay young women—were kiss¬ 
ing each other and raising their babies to the people 
in the balconies. Mr. and Mrs. Browning leant over 


H 



the balustrade and clapped and clapped. Banner 
after banner passed. The torches flashed their light 
on them. ‘‘Liberty 59 was written on one; “The 
Union of Italy 59 on another; and “The Memory of 
the Martyrs 55 and “Viva Pio Nono 55 and “Viva 
Leopoldo Secondo”—for three and a half hours 
the banners went by and the people cheered and 
Mr. and Mrs. Browning stood with six candles 
burning on the balcony, waving and waving. For 
some time Flush too, stretched between them with 
his paws over the sill, did his best to rejoice. But 
at last—he could not conceal it—he yawned. “He 
confessed at last that he thought they were rather 
long about it 55 , Mrs. Browning observed. A weari¬ 
ness, a doubt, a ribaldry possessed him. What was 
it all for? he asked himself. Who was this Grand 
Duke and what had he promised? Why were they 
all so absurdly excited?—for the ardour of Mrs. 
Browning, waving and waving, as the banners 
passed, somehow annoyed him. Such enthusiasm 
for a Grand Duke was somehow exaggerated, he 
felt. And then, as the Grand Duke passed, he be¬ 
came aware that a little dog had stopped at the door. 
Seizing his chance when Mrs. Browning was more 
than usually enthusiastic, he slipped down from the 
balcony and made off. Through the banners and the 



ITALY 


”5 


crowds he followed her. She fled further and further 
into the heart of Florence. Far away sounded the 
shouting; the cheers of the people died down into 
silence. The lights of the torches were extinguished. 
Only a star or two shone in the ripples of the Arno 
where Flush lay with the spotted spaniel by his side, 
couched in the shell of an old basket on the mud. 
There tranced in love they lay till the sun rose in 
the sky. Flush did not return until nine next morn¬ 
ing, and Mrs. Browning greeted him rather ironic¬ 
ally—he might at least, she thought, have remem¬ 
bered that it was the first anniversary of her 
wedding day. But she supposed “he had been very 
much amused”. It was true. While she had found 
an inexplicable satisfaction in the trampling of 
forty thousand people, in the promises of Grand 
Dukes and the windy aspirations of banners, Flush 
infinitely preferred the little dog at the door. 

It cannot be doubted that Mrs. Browning and 
Flush were reaching different conclusions in their 
voyages of discovery—she a Grand Duke, he a 
spotted spaniel;—and yet the tie which bound 
them together was undeniably still binding. No 
sooner had Flush abolished “must” and raced 
free through the emerald grass of the Cascine 
gardens where the pheasants fluttered red and 



ii6 


FLUSH 


gold, than he felt a check. Once more he was thrown 
back on his haunches. At first it was nothing—a 
hint merely—only that Mrs. Browning in the 
spring of 1849 became busy with her needle. And 
yet there was something in the sight that gave 
Flush pause. She was not used to sew. He noted that 
Wilson moved a bed and that she opened a drawer 
to put white clothes inside it. Raising his head 
from the tiled floor, he looked, he listened attent¬ 
ively. Was something once more about to happen? 
He looked anxiously for signs of trunks and packing. 
Was there to be another flight, another escape? 
But an escape to what, from what? There is nothing 
to be afraid of here, he assured Mrs. Browning, 
They need neither of them worry themselves in 
Florence about Mr. Taylor and dogs 5 heads 
wrapped up in brown paper parcels. Yet he was 
puzzled. The signs of change, as he read them, did 
not signify escape. They signified, much more 
mysteriously, expectance. Something; he felt, as he 
watched Mrs. Browning so composedly, yet silently 
and steadfastly, stitching in her low chair, was 
coming that was inevitable; yet to be dreaded. As 
the weeks went on, Mrs. Browning scarcely left the 
house. She seemed, as she sat there, to anticipate 
some tremendous event. Was she about to en- 



counter somebody, like the ruffian Taylor, and let 
him rain blows on her alone and unaided? Flush 
quivered with apprehension at the thought. Cer¬ 
tainly she had no intention of running away. No 
boxes were packed. There was no sign that anybody 
was about to leave the house—rather there were 
signs that somebody was coming. In his jealous 
anxiety Flush scrutinised each new-comer. There 
were many now—Miss Blagden, Mr. Landor, 
Hattie Hosmer, Mr. Lytton—ever so many ladies 
and gentlemen now came to Casa Guidi. Day after 
day Mrs. Browning sat there in her armchair 
quietly stitching. 

Then one day early in March Mrs. Browning 
did not appear in the sitting-room at all. Other 
people came in and out; Mr. Browning and Wilson 
came in and out; and they came in and out so 
distractedly that Flush hid himself under the sofa. 
People were trampling up and down stairs, running 
and calling in low whispers and muted unfamiliar 
voices. They were moving upstairs in the bedroom. 
He crept further and further under the shadow of 
the sofa. He knew in every fibre of his body that 
some change was taking place—some awful event 
was happening. So he had waited, years ago, for 
the step of the hooded man on the staircase. And 



FLUSH 


118 


at last the door had opened and Miss Barrett had 
cried “Mr. Browning!” Who was coming now? 
What hooded man? As the day wore on, he was left 
completely alone; nobody came into the drawing¬ 
room. He lay in the drawing-room without food or 
drink; a thousand spotted spaniels might have 
sniffed at the door and he would have shrunk away 
from them. For as the hours passed he had an over¬ 
whelming sense that something was thrusting its 
way into the house from outside. He peeped out 
from beneath the flounces. The cupids holding the 
lights, the ebony chests, the French chairs, all 
looked thrust asunder; he himself felt as if he were 
being pushed up against the wall to make room 
for something that he could not see. Once he saw 
Mr. Browning, but he was not the same Mr. 
Browning; once Wilson, but she was changed too— 
as if they were both seeing the invisible presence 
that he felt. Their eyes were oddly glazed. 

At last Wilson, looking very flushed and untidy 
but triumphant, took him in her arms and carried 
him upstairs. They entered the bedroom. There 
was a faint bleating in the shadowed room—some¬ 
thing waved on the pillow. It was a live animal. 
Independently of them all, without the street door 
being opened, out of herself in the room, alone, 



ITALY 


“9 


Mrs. Browning had become two people. The horrid 
thing waved and mewed by her side. Torn with 
rage and jealousy and some deep disgust that he 
could not hide, Flush struggled himself free and 
rushed downstairs. Wilson and Mrs. Browning 
called him back; they tempted him with caresses; 
they offered him titbits; but it was useless. He 
cowered away from the disgusting sight, the re¬ 
pulsive presence, wherever there was a shadowy 
sofa or a dark corner. . . for a whole fortnight he 
fell into deep melancholy and was proof against all 
attentions lavished on him 55 —so Mrs. Browning, 
in the midst of all her other distractions, was forced 
to notice. And when we take, as we must, human 
minutes and hours and drop them into a dog’s 
mind and see how the minutes swell into hours and 
the hours into days, we shall not exaggerate if we 
conclude that Flush’s “deep melancholy” lasted 
six full months by the human clock. Many men and 
women have forgotten their hates and their loves 
in less. 

But Flush was no longer the unschooled, un¬ 
trained dog of Wimpole Street days. He had learnt 
his lesson. Wilson had struck him. He had been 
forced to swallow cakes that were stale when he 
might have eaten them fresh; he had sworn to love 



ISO 


FLUSH 


and not to bite. All this churned in his mind as he 
lay under the sofa; and at last he issued out. Again 
he was rewarded. At first, it must be admitted, the 
reward was insubstantial if not positively disagree¬ 
able. The baby was set on his back and Flush had 
to trot about with the baby pulling his ears. But 
he submitted with such grace, only turning round, 
when his ears were pulled, “to kiss the little bare, 
dimpled feet 55 , that, before three months had 
passed, this helpless, weak, puling, muling lump 
had somehow come to prefer him, “on the whole 55 
—so Mrs. Browning said—to other people. And 
then, strangely enough, Flush found that he re¬ 
turned the baby's affection. Did they not share 
something in common—did not the baby somehow 
resemble Flush in many ways? Did they not hold 
the same views, the same tastes? For instance, in 
the matter of scenery. To Flush all scenery was 
insipid. He had never, all these years, learnt to 
focus his eyes upon mountains. When they took 
him to Vallombrosa all the splendours of its woods 
had merely bored him. Now again, when the baby 
was a few months old, they went on another of 
those long expeditions in a travelling carriage. The 
baby lay on his nurse’s lap; Flush sat on Mrs. 
Browning's knee. The carriage went on and on and 



ITALY 


121 


on, painfully climbing the heights of the Apennines. 
Mrs. Browning was almost beside herself with 
delight. She could scarcely tear herself from the 
window. She could not find words enough in the 
whole of the English language to express what she 
felt. . . the exquisite, almost visionary scenery 
of the Apennines, the wonderful variety of shape 
and colour, the sudden transitions and vital in¬ 
dividuality of those mountains, the chestnut forests 
dropping by their own weight into the deep ravines, 
the rocks cloven and clawed by the living torrents, 
and the hills, hill above hill, piling up their grand 
existences as if they did it themselves, changing 
colour in the effort”—the beauty of the Apennines 
brought words to birth in such numbers that they 
positively crushed each other out of existence. But 
the baby and Flush felt none of this stimulus, none 
of this inadequacy. Both were silent. Flush drew “in 
his head from the window and didn’t consider it 
worth looking at. . . . He has a supreme contempt 
for trees and hills or anything of that kind”, Mrs. 
Browning concluded. The carriage rumbled on. 
Flush slept and the baby slept. Then at last there 
were lights and houses and men and women passing 
the windows. They had entered a village. In¬ 
stantly Flush was all attention. . his eyes were 



122 


FLUSH 


starting out of his headwith eagerness; he looked east, 
he looked west, you would conclude that he was 
taking notes or preparing them .’ 5 It was the human 
scene that stirred him. Beauty, so it seems at least, 
had to be crystallised into a green or violet powder 
and puffed by some celestial syringe down the 
fringed channels that lay behind his nostrils before 
it touched Flush’s senses; and then it issued not in 
words, but in a silent rapture. Where Mrs. Brown¬ 
ing saw, he smelt; where she wrote, he snuffed. 

Here, then, the biographer must perforce come 
to a pause. Where two or three thousand words 
are insufficient for what we see—and Mrs. Browning 
had to admit herself beaten by the Apennines: “Of 
these things I cannot give you any idea”, she 
admitted—there are no more than two words and 
one-half for what we smell. The human nose 
is practically non-existent. The greatest poets in 
the world have smelt nothing but roses on the 
one hand, and dung on the other. The infinite 
gradations that lie between are unrecorded. Yet 
it was in the world of smell that Flush mostly lived. 
Love was chiefly smell; form and colour were 
smell; music and architecture, law, politics and 
science were smell. To him religion itself was smell. 
To describe his simplest experience with the daily 



ITALY 


123 


chop or biscuit is beyond our power. Not even Mr. 
Swinburne could have said what the smell of Wim- 
pole Street meant to Flush on a hot afternoon in 
June. As for describing the smell of a spaniel mixed 
with the smell of torches, laurels, incense, banners, 
wax candles and a garland of rose leaves crushed 
by a satin heel that has been laid up in camphor, 
perhaps Shakespeare, had he paused in the middle 
of writing Antony and Cleopatra — But Shakespeare 
did not pause. Confessing our inadequacy, then, 
we can but note that to Flush Italy, in these the 
fullest, the freest, the happiest years of his life, 
meant mainly a succession of smells. Love, it must 
be supposed, was gradually losing its appeal. 
Smell remained. Now that they were established 
in Casa Guidi again, all had their avocations. Mr. 
Browning wrote regularly in one room; Mrs. 
Browning wrote regularly in another. The baby 
played in the nursery. But Flush wandered off into 
the streets of Florence to enjoy the rapture of smell. 
He threaded his path through main streets and back 
streets, through squares and alleys, by smell. He 
nosed his way from smell to smell; the rough, the 
smooth, the dark, the golden. He went in and out, 
up and down, where they beat brass, where they 
bake bread, where the women sit combing their 



124 


FLUSH 


hair, where the bird-cages are piled high on the 
causeway, where the wine spills itself in dark red 
stains on the pavement, where leather smells and 
harness and garlic, where cloth is beaten, where 
vine leaves tremble, where men sit and drink and 
spit and dice—he ran in and out, always with his 
nose to the ground, drinking in the essence; or 
with his nose in the air vibrating with the aroma. 
He slept in this hot patch of sun—how sun made 
the stone reek! he sought that tunnel of shade— 
how acid shade made the stone smell! He devoured 
whole bunches of ripe grapes largely because of 
their purple smell; he chewed and spat out what¬ 
ever tough relic of goat or macaroni the Italian 
housewife had thrown from the balcony—goat and 
macaroni were raucous smells, crimson smells. He 
followed the swooning sweetness of incense into the 
violet intricacies of dark cathedrals; and, sniffing, 
tried to lap the gold on the window-stained tomb. 
Nor was his sense of touch much less acute. He 
knew Florence in its marmoreal smoothness and 
in its gritty and cobbled roughness. Hoary folds of 
drapery, smooth fingers and feet of stone received 
the lick of his tongue, the quiver of his shivering 
snout. Upon the infinitely sensitive pads of his feet 
he took the clear stamp of proud Latin inscriptions. 



ITALY 


'*5 


In short-, he knew Florence as no human being has 
ever known it; as Ruskin never knew it or George 
Eliot either. He knew it as only the dumb know. 
Not a single one of his myriad sensations ever sub¬ 
mitted itself to the deformity of words. 

But though it would be pleasant for the bio¬ 
grapher to infer that Flush’s life in late middle age 
was an orgy of pleasure transcending all descrip¬ 
tion; to maintain that while the baby day by day 
picked up a ne\v word and thus removed sensation 
a little further beyond reach, Flush was fated to 
remain for ever in a Paradise where essences exist 
in their utmost purity, and the naked soul of things 
presses on the naked nerve—it would not be true. 
Flush lived in no such Paradise. The spirit, ranging 
from star to star, the bird whose furthest flight over 
polar snows or tropical forests never brings it 
within sight of human houses and their curling 
wood-smoke, may, for anything we know, enjoy 
such immunity, such integrity of bliss. But Flush 
had lain upon human knees and heard men’s 
voices. His flesh was veined with human passions; 
he knew all grades of jealousy, anger and despair. 
Now in summer he was scourged by fleas. With a 
cruel irony the sun that ripened the grapes brought 
also the fleas. . . Savonarola’s martyrdom here 



126 


FLUSH 


in Florence”, wrote Mrs. Browning, “is scarcely 
worse than Flush’s in the summer.” Fleas leapt to 
life in every corner of the Florentine houses; they 
skipped and hopped out of every cranny of the old 
stone; out of every fold of old tapestry; out of every 
cloak, hat and blanket. They nested in Flush’s fur. 
They bit their way into the thickest of his coat. 
He scratched and tore. His health suffered; he be¬ 
came morose, thin and feverish. Miss Mitford was 
appealed to. What remedy was there, Mrs. Brown¬ 
ing wrote anxiously, for fleas? Miss Mitford, still 
sitting in her greenhouse at Three Mile Cross, still 
writing tragedies, put down her pen and looked 
up her old prescriptions—what Mayflower had 
taken, what Rosebud. But the fleas of Reading die 
at a pinch. The fleas of Florence are red and virile. 
To them Miss Mitford’s powders might well have 
been snuff. In despair Mr. and Mrs. Browning 
went down on their knees beside a pail of water 
and did their best to exorcise the pest with soap 
and scrubbing-brush. It was in vain. At last one 
day Mr. Browning, taking Flush for a walk, 
noticed that people pointed; he heard a man lay 
a finger to his nose and whisper “La rogna” 
(mange). As by this time “Robert is as fond of 
Flush as I am”, to take his walk of an afternoon 



ITALY 


127 


with a friend and to hear him thus stigmatised was 
intolerable. Robert, his wife wrote, “wouldn’t bear it 
any longer”. Only one remedy remained, but it was 
a remedy that was almost as drastic as the disease 
itself. However democratic Flush had become and 
careless of the signs of rank, he still remained what 
Philip Sidney had called him, a gentleman by 
birth. He carried his pedigree on his back. His coat 
meant to him what a gold watch inscribed with 
the family arms means to an impoverished squire 
whose broad acres have shrunk to that single circle. 
It was the coat that Mr. Browning now proposed 
to sacrifice. He called Flush to him and, “taking a 
pair of scissors, clipped him all over into the likeness 
of a lion”. 

As Robert Browning snipped, as the insignia of 
a cocker spaniel fell to the floor, as the travesty of 
quite a different animal rose round his neck, Flush 
felt himself emasculated, diminished, ashamed. 
What am I now? he thought, gazing into the glass. 
And the glass replied with the brutal sincerity of 
glasses, “You are nothing”. He was nobody. Cer¬ 
tainly he was no longer a cocker spaniel. But as he 
gazed, his ears bald now, and uncurled, seemed to 
twitch. It was as if the potent spirits of truth and 
laughter were whispering in them. To be nothing— 



128 


FLUSH 


is that not, after all, the most satisfactory state in the 
whole world? He looked again. There was his ruff. 
To caricature the pomposity of those who claim 
that they,are something—was that not in its way 
a career? Anyhow, settle the matter as he might, 
there could be no doubt that he was free from 
fleas. He shook his ruff. He danced on his nude, 
attenuated legs. His spirits rose. So might a great 
beauty, rising from a bed of sickness and finding 
her face eternally disfigured, make a bonfire of 
clothes and cosmetics, and laugh with joy to think 
that she need never look in the glass again or dread 
a lover’s coolness or a rival’s beauty. So might a 
clergyman, cased for twenty years in starch and 
broadcloth, cast his collar into the dustbin and 
snatch the works of Voltaire from the cupboard. 
So Flush scampered off clipped all over into the 
likeness of a lion, but free from fleas. “Flush”, Mrs. 
Browning wrote to her sister, “is wise.” She was 
thinking perhaps of the Greeks saying that happiness 
is only to be reached through suffering. The true 
philosopher is he who has lost his coat but is free 
from fleas. 

But Flush had not long to wait before his newly 
won philosophy was put to the test. Again in the 
summer of 1852 there were signs at Casa Guidi of 



ITALY 


129 


one of those crises which, gathering soundlessly 
as a drawer opens or as a piece of string is left 
dangling from a box, are to a dog as menacing as 
the clouds which foretell lightning to a shepherd 
or as the rumours which foretell war to a statesman. 
Another change was indicated, another journey. 
Well, what of that? Trunks were hauled down and 
corded. The baby was carried out in his nurse’s 
arms. Mr. and Mrs. Browning appeared, dressed 
for travelling. There was a cab at the door. Flush 
waited philosophically in the hall. When they were 
ready he was ready. Now that they were all seated in 
the carriage, with one bound Flush sprang lightly 
in after them. To Venice, to Rome, to Paris— 
where were they going? All countries were equal 
to him now; all men were his brothers. He had 
learnt that lesson for himself. But when finally 
he emerged from obscurity he had need of all his 
philosophy—he was in London. 

Houses spread to right and left in sharp avenues 
of regular brick. The pavement was cold and hard 
beneath his feet. And there, issuing from a mahog¬ 
any door with a brass knocker, was a lady bounti¬ 
fully apparelled in flowing robes of purple plush. 
A light wreath starred with flowers rested on her 
hair. Gathering her draperies about her, she glanced 

I 



130 


FLUSH 


disdainfully up and down the street while a foot¬ 
man, stooping, let down the step of the barouche 
landau. All Welbeck Street—for Welbeck Street it 
was—was wrapped in a splendour of red light—a 
light not clear and fierce like the Italian light, but 
tawny and troubled with the dust of a million 
wheels, with the trampling of a million hooves. The 
London season was at its height. A pall of sound, 
a cloud of interwoven humming, fell over the city 
in one confluent growl. By came a majestic deer¬ 
hound led on a chain by a page. A policeman, 
swinging past with rhythmical stride, cast his bull’s- 
eye from side to side. Odours of stew, odours of beef, 
odours of basting, odours of beef and cabbage rose 
from a thousand basements. A flunkey in livery 
dropped a letter into a box. 

Overcome by the magnificence of the metro¬ 
polis, Flush paused for a moment with his foot on 
the door-step. Wilson paused too. How paltry it 
seemed now, the civilisation of Italy, its Courts and 
its revolutions, its Grand Dukes and their body¬ 
guards ! She thanked God, as the policeman passed, 
that she had not married Signor Righi after all. 
And then a sinister figure issued from the public- 
house at the corner. A man leered. With one spring 
Flush bolted indoors. 



For some weeks now he was closely confined to 
a lodging-house sitting-room in Welbeck Street. 
For confinement was still necessary. The cholera 
had come, and it is true that the cholera had done 
something to improve the condition of the Rook¬ 
eries; but not enough, for still dogs were stolen and 
the dogs of Wimpole Street had still to be led on 
chains. Flush went into society, of course. He met 
dogs at the pillar-box and outside the public-house; 
they welcomed him back with the inherent good 
breeding of their kind. Just as an English peer 
who has lived a lifetime in the East and contracted 
some of the habits of the natives—rumour hints 
indeed that he has turned Moslem and had a son 
by a Chinese washerwoman—finds, when he takes 
his place at Court, that old friends are ready enough 
to overlook these aberrations and he is asked to 
Chatsworth, though no mention is made of his 
wife and it is taken for granted that he will join 
the family at prayers—so the pointers and setters 
of Wimpole Street welcomed Flush among them 
and overlooked the condition of his coat. But there 
was a certain morbidity, it seemed to Flush now, 
among the dogs of London. It was common know¬ 
ledge that Mrs. Carlyle’s dog Nero had leapt from a 
top storey window with the intention of committing 



132 


FLUSH 


suicide. He had found the strain of life in Cheyne 
Row intolerable, it was said. Indeed Flush could 
well believe it now that he was back again in Wel- 
beck Street. The confinement, the crowd of little 
objects, the blackbeetles by night, the bluebottles 
by day, the lingering odours of mutton, the per¬ 
petual presence on the sideboard of bananas—all 
this, together with the proximity of several men 
and women, heavily dressed and not often or 
indeed completely washed, wrought on his temper 
and strained his nerves. He lay for hours under 
the lodging-house chiffonier. It was impossible to 
run out of doors. The front door was always locked. 
He had to wait for somebody to lead him on a 
chain. 

Two incidents alone broke the monotony of the 
weeks he spent in London. One day late that summer 
the Brownings went to visit the Rev. Charles 
Kingsley at Farnham. In Italy the earth would 
have been bare and hard as brick. Fleas would have 
been rampant. Languidly one would have dragged 
oneself from shadow to shadow, grateful even for 
the bar of shade cast by the raised arm of one of 
Donatello’s statues. But here at Farnham there 
were fields of green grass; there were pools of blue 
water; there were woods that murmured, and turf 



ITALY 


133 


so fine that the paws bounced as they touched it. 
The Brownings and the Kingsleys spent the day 
together. And once more, as Flush trotted behind 
them, the old trumpets blew; the old ecstasy re¬ 
turned—was it hare or was it fox? Flush tore over 
the heaths of Surrey as he had not run since the 
old days at Three Mile Cross. A pheasant went 
rocketing up in a spurt of purple and gold. He had 
almost shut his teeth on the tail feathers when a 
voice rang out. A whip cracked. Was it the Rev. 
Charles Kingsley who called him sharply to heel? 
At any rate he ran no more. The woods of Farnham 
were strictly preserved. 

A few days later he was lying in the sitting-room 
at Welbeck Street, when Mrs. Browning came in 
dressed for walking and called him from under the 
chiffonier. She slipped the chain on to his collar 
and, for the first time since September 1846, they 
walked up Wimpole Street together. When they 
came to the door of No. 50 they stopped as of 
old. Just as of old they waited. The butler just 
as of old was very slow in coming. At length the 
door opened. Could that be Catiline lying couched 
on the mat? The old toothless dog yawned and 
stretched himself and took no notice. Upstairs they 
crept as stealthily, as silently as once before they 



134 


FLUSH 


had come down. Very quietly, opening the doors as 
if she were afraid of what she might see there, Mrs. 
Browning went from room to room. A gloom 
descended upon her as she looked. “... they seemed 
to me”, she wrote, “smaller and darker, somehow, 
and the furniture wanted fitness and convenience.” 
The ivy was still tapping on the back bedroom 
window-pane. The painted blind still obscured the 
houses. Nothing had been changed. Nothing had 
happened all these years. So she went from room 
to room, sadly remembering. But long before she 
had finished her inspection, Flush was in a fever 
of anxiety. Suppose Mr. Barrett were to come in 
and find them? Suppose that with one frown 
he turned the key and locked them in the back 
bedroom for ever? At last Mrs. Browning shut the 
doors and went downstairs again very quietly. 
Yes, she said, it seemed to her that the house 
wanted cleaning. 

After that, Flush had only one wish left in him— 
to leave London, to leave England for ever. He was 
not happy until he found himself on the deck of the 
Channel steamer crossing to France. It was a rough 
passage. The crossing took eight hours. As the 
steamer tossed and wallowed, Flush turned over 
in his mind a tumult of mixed memories—of ladies 



ITALY 


135 


in purple plush, of ragged men with bags; of 
Regent’s Park, and Queen Victoria sweeping past 
with outriders; of the greenness of English grass 
and the rankness of English pavements—all this 
passed through his mind as he lay on deck; and, 
looking up, he caught sight of a stern, tall man 
leaning over the rail. 

“Mr. Carlyle! 5 ’ he heard Mrs. Browning ex¬ 
claim; whereupon—the crossing, it must be re¬ 
membered, was a bad one—Flush was violently 
sick. Sailors came running with pails and mops. 
“. . . he was ordered off the deck on purpose, poor 
dog”, said Mrs. Browning. For the deck was still 
English; dogs must not be sick on decks. Such was 
his last salute to the shores of his native land. 



CHAPTER VI 


THE END 

Flush was growing an old dog now. The journey 
to England and all the memories it revived had 
undoubtedly tired him. It was noticed that he 
sought the shade rather than the sun on his return, 
though the shade of Florence was hotter than the 
sun of Wimpole Street. Stretched beneath a statue, 
couched under the lip of a fountain for the sake of 
the few drops that spurted now and again on to his 
coat, he would lie dozing by the hour. The young 
dogs would come about him. To them he would 
tell his stories of Whitechapel and Wimpole Street; 
he would describe the smell of clover and the smell 
of Oxford Street; he would rehearse his memories 
of one revolution and another—how Grand Dukes 
had come and Grand Dukes had gone; but the 
spotted spaniel down the alley on the left—she 
goes on for ever, he would say. Then violent Mr. 
Landor would hurry by and shake his fist at him 
in mock fury; kind Miss Isa Blagden would pause 
136 



THE END 


137 


and take a sugared biscuit from her reticule. The 
peasant women in the market-place made him a 
bed of leaves in the shadow of their baskets and 
tossed him a bunch of grapes now and then. He 
was known, he was liked by all Florence—gentle 
and simple, dogs and men. 

But he was growing an old dog now, and he 
tended more and more to lie not even under the 
fountain—for the cobbles were too hard for his old 
bones—but in Mrs. Browning’s bedroom where 
the arms of the Guidi family made a smooth patch 
of scagliola on the floor, or in the drawing-room 
under the shadow of the drawing-room table. One 
day shortly after his return from London he was 
stretched there fast asleep. The deep and dreamless 
sleep of old age was heavy on him. Indeed to-day 
his sleep was deeper even than usual, for as he 
slept the darkness seemed to thicken round him. 
If he dreamt at all, he dreamt that he was sleeping 
in the heart of a primeval forest, shut from the 
light of the sun, shut from the voices of mankind, 
though now and again as he slept he dreamt that 
he heard the sleepy chirp of a dreaming bird, or, 
as the wind tossed the branches, the mellow 
chuckle of a brooding monkey. 

Then suddenly the branches parted; the light 



138 


FLUSH 


broke in—here, there, in dazzling shafts. Monkeys 
chattered; birds rose crying and calling in alarm. 
He started to his feet wide awake. An astonishing 
commotion was all round him. He had fallen 
asleep between the bare legs of an ordinary draw¬ 
ing-room table. Now he was hemmed in by the 
billowing of skirts and the heaving of trousers. The 
table itself, moreover, was swaying violently from 
side to side. He did not know which way to run. 
What on earth was happening? What in Heaven’s 
name possessed the drawing-room table? He lifted 
up his voice in a prolonged howl of interrogation. 

To Flush’s question no satisfactory answer can 
here be given. A few facts, and those of the baldest, 
are all that can be supplied. Briefly, then, it would 
appear that early in the nineteenth century the 
Countess of Blessington had bought a crystal ball 
from a magician. Her Ladyship “never could 
understand the use of it”; indeed she had never 
been able to see anything in the ball except crystal. 
After her death, however, there was a sale of her 
effects and the ball came into the possession of 
others who “looked deeper, or with purer eyes”, 
and saw other things in the ball besides crystal. 
Whether Lord Stanhope was the purchaser, 
whether it was he who looked “with purer eyes”, 



THE END 


139 


is not stated. But certainly by the year 1852 Lord 
Stanhope was in possession of a crystal ball and 
Lord Stanhope had only to look into it to see among 
other things “the spirits of the sun 55 . Obviously this 
was not a sight that a hospitable nobleman could 
keep to himself, and Lord Stanhope was in the 
habit of displaying his ball at luncheon parties and 
of inviting his friends to see the spirits of the sun 
also. There was something strangely delightful— 
except indeed to Mr. Ghorley—in the spectacle; 
balls became the rage; and luckily a London 
optician soon discovered that he could make them, 
without being either an Egyptian or a magician, 
though naturally the price of English crystal was 
high. Thus many people in the early ’fifties became 
possessed of balls, though “many persons 55 , Lord 
Stanhope said, “use the balls, without the moral 
courage to confess it 55 . The prevalence of spirits in 
London indeed became so marked that some alarm 
was felt; and Lord Stanley suggested to Sir Edward 
Lytton “that the Government should appoint a com- 
mittee of investigation so as to get as far as possible 
at the facts 55 . Whether the rumour of an approach¬ 
ing Government committee alarmed the spirits, 
or whether spirits, like bodies, tend to multiply in 
close confinement, there can be no doubt that the 



140 


FLUSH 


spirits began to show signs of restlessness, and, 
escaping in vast numbers, took up their residence 
in the legs of tables. Whatever the motive, the 
policy was successful. Crystal balls were expensive; 
almost everybody owns a table. Thus when Mrs. 
Browning returned to Italy in the winter of 1852 
she found that the spirits had preceded her; the 
tables of Florence were almost universally infected. 
“From the Legation to the English chemists 55 , she 
wrote, “people are Serving tables 5 . . . everywhere. 
When people gather round a table it isn’t to play 
whist. 55 No, it was to decipher messages conveyed 
by the legs of tables. Thus if asked the age of a 
child, the table “expresses itself intelligently by 
knocking with its legs, responses according to the 
alphabet 55 . And if a table could tell you that your 
own child was four years old, what limit was there 
to its capacity? Spinning tables were advertised in 
shops. The walls were placarded with advertise¬ 
ments of wonders “scoperte a Livorno By the year 
1854, so rapidly did the movement spread, “four 
hundred thousand families in America had given 
their names ... as actually in enjoyment of spiritual 
intercourse 55 . And from England the news came 
that Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton had imported 
“several of the American rapping spirits 55 to 



THE END 


I 4 I 


Knebworth, with the happy result — so little 
Arthur Russell was informed when he beheld a 
“strange-looking old gentleman in a shabby dress¬ 
ing-gown” staring at him at breakfast—that Sir 
Edward Bulwer Lytton believed himself invisible. 

When Mrs. Browning first looked into Lord 
Stanhope’s crystal ball at a luncheon party she 
saw nothing—except indeed that it was a remark¬ 
able sign of the times. The spirit of the sun indeed 
told her that she was about to go to Rome; but as 
she was not about to go to Rome, she contradicted 
the spirits of the sun. “But”, she added, with truth, 
U I love the marvellous.” She was nothing if not 
adventurous. She had gone to Manning Street at the 
risk of her life. She had discovered a world that she 
had never dreamt of within half an hour’s drive from 
Wimpole Street. Why should there not be another 
world only half a moment’s flight from Florence 
—a better world, a more beautiful world, where 
the dead live, trying in vain to reach us? At any rate 
she would take the risk. And so she sat herself down 
at the table too. And Mr. Lytton, the brilliant son 
of an invisible father, came; and Mr. Frederick 
Tennyson, and Mr. Powers and M. Villari—they 
all sat at the table, and then when the table had 
done kicking, they sat on drinking tea and eating 



142 


FLUSH 


strawberries and cream, with “Florence dissolving 
in the purple of the hills and the stars looking on”, 
talking and talking: “. . . what stories we told, and 
what miracles we swore to! Oh, we are believers 
here, Isa, except Robert. ...” Then in burst deaf 
Mr. Kirkup with his bleak white beard. He had 
come round simply to exclaim, “There is a spiritual 
world—there is a future state. I confess it. I am 
convinced at last.” And when Mr. Kirkup, whose 
creed had always been “the next thing to atheism”, 
was converted merely because, in spite of his deaf¬ 
ness, he had heard “three taps so loud that they 
made him leap”, how could Mrs. Browning keep 
her hands off the table? “You know I am rather 
a visionary and inclined to knock round at all the 
doors of the present world to try to get out”, she 
wrote. So she summoned the faithful to Casa Guidi; 
and there they sat with their hands on the drawing¬ 
room table, trying to get out. 

Flush started up in the wildest apprehension. 
The skirts and the trousers were billowing round 
him; the table was standing on one leg. But what¬ 
ever the ladies and gentlemen round the table 
could hear and see, Flush could hear and see 
nothing. True, the table was standing on one leg, 
but so tables will if you lean hard on one side. He 



THE END 


143 


had upset tables himself and been well scolded for 
it. But now there was Mrs. Browning with her 
great eyes wide open staring as if she saw something 
marvellous outside. Flush rushed to the balcony 
and looked over. Was there another Grand Duke 
riding by with banners and torches? Flush could see 
nothing but an old beggar woman crouched at the 
corner of the street over her basket of melons. Yet 
clearly Mrs. Browning saw something; clearly she 
saw something that was very wonderful. So in the 
old Wimpole Street days she had wept once without 
any reason that he could see; and again she had 
laughed, holding up a blotted scrawl. But this was 
different. There was something in her look now 
that frightened him. There was something in the 
room, or in the table, or in the petticoats and 
trousers, that he disliked exceedingly. 

As the weeks passed, this preoccupation of Mrs. 
Browning’s with the invisible grew upon her. It 
might be a fine hot day, but instead of watching 
the lizards slide in and out of the stones, she would 
sit at the table; it might be a dark starry night, but 
instead of reading in her book, or passing her hand 
over paper, she would call, if Mr. Browning were 
out, for Wilson, and Wilson would come yawning. 
Then they would sit at the table together until that 



144 


FLUSH 


article of furniture, whose chief function it was 
to provide shade, kicked on the floor, and Mrs. 
Browning exclaimed that it was telling Wilson that 
she would soon be ill. Wilson replied that she was 
only sleepy. But soon Wilson herself, the implacable, 
the upright, the British, screamed and went into 
a faint, and Mrs. Browning was rushing hither and 
thither to find “the hygienic vinegar’ 5 . That, to 
Flush, was a highly unpleasant way of spending 
a quiet evening. Better far to sit and read one’s 
book. 

Undoubtedly the suspense, the intangible but 
disagreeable odour, the kicks and the screams and 
the vinegar, told upon Flush’s nerves. It was all 
very well for the baby, Penini, to pray “that 
Flush’s hair may grow”; that was an aspiration 
that Flush could understand. But this form of 
prayer which required the presence of evil-smelling, 
seedy-looking men and the antics of a piece of 
apparently solid mahogany, angered him much 
as they angered that robust, sensible, well-dressed 
man, his master. But far worse than any smell to 
Flush, far worse than any antics, was the look on 
Mrs. Browning’s face when she gazed out of the 
window as if she were seeing something that was 
wonderful when there was nothing. Flush stood 



THE END 


145 


himself in front of her. She looked through him as 
if he were not there. That was the cruellest look 
she had ever given him. It was worse than her cold 
anger when he bit Mr. Browning in the leg ; worse 
than her sardonic laughter when, the door shut 
upon his paw in Regent’s Park. There were 
moments indeed when he regretted Wimpole 
Street and its tables. The tables at No. 50 had 
never tilted upon one leg. The little table with the 
ring round it that held her precious ornaments 
had always stood perfectly still. In those far-off 
days he had only to leap on her sofa and Miss 
Barrett started wide-awake and looked at him. 
Now, once more, he leapt on to her sofa. But she 
did not notice him. She was writing. She paid no 
attention to him. She went on writing—“also, at 
the request of the medium, the spiritual hands 
took from the table a garland which lay there, and 
placed it upon my head. The particular hand 
which did this was of the largest human size, as 
white as snow, and very beautiful. It was as near 
to me as this hand I write with, and I saw it as 
distinctly.” Flush pawed her sharply. She looked 
through him as if he were invisible. He leapt off 
the sofa and ran downstairs into the street. 

It was a blazing hot afternoon. The old beggar 

K 



146 


FLUSH 


woman at the corner had fallen asleep over her 
melons. The sun seemed droning in the sky. Keep¬ 
ing to the shady side of the street, Flush trotted 
along the well-known ways to the market-place. 
The whole square was brilliant with awnings and 
stalls and bright umbrellas. The market women 
were sitting beside baskets of fruit; pigeons were 
fluttering, bells were pealing, whips were cracking. 
The many-coloured mongrels of Florence were 
running in and out sniffing and pawing. All was 
as brisk as a bee-hive and as hot as an oven. Flush 
sought the shade. He flung himself down beside 
his friend Catterina, under the shadow of her great 
basket. A brown jar of red and yellow flowers 
cast a shadow beside it. Above them a statue, 
holding his right arm outstretched, deepened 
the shade to violet. Flush lay there in the cool, 
watching the young dogs busy with their own 
affairs. They were snarling and biting, stretching 
and tumbling, in all the abandonment of youthffil 
joy. They were chasing each other in and out, 
round and round, as he had once chased the 
spotted spaniel in the alley. His thoughts turned to 
Reading for a moment—to Mr. Partridge’s spaniel, 
to his first love, to the ecstasies, the innocences of 
youth. Well, he had had his day. He did not grudge 



THE END 


147 


them theirs. He had found the world a pleasant 
place to live in. He had no quarrel with it now. 
The market woman scratched him behind the ear. 
She had often cuffed him for stealing a grape, or for 
some other misdemeanour; but he was old now; 
and she was old. He guarded her melons and she 
scratched his ear. So she knitted and he dozed. The 
flies buzzed on the great pink melon that had been 
sliced open to show its flesh. 

The sun burnt deliciously through the lily leaves, 
and through the green and white umbrella. The 
marble statue tempered its heat to a champagne 
freshness. Flush lay and let it burn through his fur to 
the naked skin. And when he was roasted on one side 
he turned over and let the sun roast the other. All the 
time the market people were chattering and bargain¬ 
ing; marketwomen were passing; they were stopping 
and fingering the vegetables and the fruit. There 
was a perpetual buzz and hum of human voices such 
as Flush loved to listen to. After a time he drowsed 
off under the shadow of the lilies. He slept as 
dogs sleep when they are dreaming. Now his legs 
twitched—was he dreaming that he hunted rabbits 
in Spain? Was he coursing up a hot hill-side with 
dark men shouting “Span! Span!” as the rabbits 
darted from the brushwood? Then he lay still again. 

K 2 



148 


FLUSH 


And now he yelped, quickly, softly, many times 
in succession. Perhaps he heard Dr. Mitford egging 
his greyhounds on to the hunt at Reading. Then 
his tail wagged sheepishly. Did he hear old Miss 
Mitford cry “Bad dog! Bad dog!” as he slunk back 
to her, where she stood among the turnips waving 
her umbrella? And then he lay for a time snoring, 
wrapt in the deep sleep of happy old age. Suddenly 
every muscle in his body twitched. He woke with 
a violent start. Where did he think he was? In 
Whitechapel among the ruffians? Was the knife at 
his throat again? 

Whatever it was, he woke from his dream in a 
state of terror. He made off as if he were flying to 
safety, as if he were seeking refuge. The market 
women laughed and pelted him with rotten grapes 
and called him back. He took no notice. Cart¬ 
wheels almost crushed him as he darted through the 
streets—the men standing up to drive cursed him 
and flicked him with their whips. Half-naked 
children threw pebbles at him and shouted “ Matta! 
Matta /” as he fled past. Their mothers ran to the 
door and caught them back in alarm. Had he 
then gone mad? Had the sun turned his brain? Or 
had he once more heard the hunting horn of 
Venus? Or had one of the American rapping 



THE END 


149 


spirits, one of the spirits that live in table legs, 
got possession of him at last? Whatever it was, 
he went in a bee-line up one street and down 
another until he reached the door of Casa Guidi. 
He made his way straight upstairs and went 
straight into the drawing-room. 

Mrs. Browning was lying, reading, on the sofa. 
She looked up, startled, as he came in. No, it was 
not a spirit—it was only Flush. She laughed. Then, 
as he leapt on to the sofa and thrust his face into 
hers, the words of her own poem came into her 
mind: 

You see this dog. It was but yesterday 

I mused forgetful of his presence here 

Till thought on thought drew downward tear on tear, 

When from the pillow, where wet-cheeked I lay, 

A head as hairy as Faunus, thrust its way 
Right sudden against my face,—two golden-clear 
Great eyes astonished mine,—a drooping ear 
Did flap me on either cheek to dry the spray! 

I started first, as some Arcadian, 

Amazed by goatly god in twilight grove; 

But, as the bearded vision closelier ran 
My tears off, I knew Flush, and rose above 
Surprise and sadness,—thanking the true Pan, 

Who, by low creatures, leads to heights of love. 

She had written that poem one day years ago in 
Wimpole Street when she was very unhappy. Now 



150 


FLUSH 


she was happy. She was growing old now and so 
was Flush. She bent down over him for a moment. 
Her face with its wide mouth and its great eyes and 
its heavy curls was still oddly like his. Broken 
asunder, yet made in the same mould, each, per¬ 
haps, completed what was dormant in the other. 
But she was woman; he was dog. Mrs. Browning 
went on reading. Then she looked at Flush again. 
But he did not look at her. An extraordinary change 
had come over him. “Flush!” she cried. But he 
was silent. He had been alive; he was now dead. 
That was all. The drawing-room table, strangely 
enough, stood perfectly still. 



AUTHORITIES 


It must be admitted that there are very few 
authorities for the foregoing biography. But the 
reader who would like to check the facts or to 
pursue the subject further is referred to: 

To Flush , My Dog. | Poems by Elizabeth Barrett 

Flush, or Faunus. ) Browning. 

The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett 
Barrett . 2 vols. 

The Letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning , edited by 
Frederick Kenyon. 2 vols. 

The Letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning addressed to 
Richard Hengist Home , edited by S. R. Townshend Mayer. 
2 vols. 

Elizabeth Barrett Browning: letters to her sister 1846-1859 , 
edited by Leonard Huxley, LL.D. 

Elizabeth Barrett Browning in her Letters , by Percy Lub¬ 
bock. 

References to Flush are to be found in the Letters of 
Mary Russell Mitford, edited by H. Chorley. 2 vols. 

For an account of London Rookeries, The Rookeries of 
London , by Thomas Beames, 1850, may be consulted. 

151 



NOTES 


P. 24. “painted fabric 59 . Miss Barrett says, “I 
had a transparent blind put up in my open 
window 95 . She adds, “papa insults me with the 
analogy of a back window in a confectioner’s shop, 
but is obviously moved when the sunshine lights 
up the castle, notwithstanding”. Some hold that 
the castle, etc., was painted on a thin metallic 
substance; others that it was a muslin blind richly 
embroidered. There seems no certain way of 
settling the matter. 

P. 41. “Mr. Kenyon mumbled slightly because 
he had lost two front teeth.” There are elements of 
exaggeration and conjecture here. Miss Mitford is 
the authority. She is reported to have said in con¬ 
versation with Mr. Horne, “Our dear friend, you 
are aware, never sees anybody but the members of 
her own family, and one or two others. She has a 
high opinion of the skill in reading as well as the fine 

taste, of Mr. -, and she gets him to read her 

new poems aloud to her. ... So Mr.-stands 

upon the hearth-rug, and uplifts the MS., and his 
voice, while our dear friend lies folded up in Indian 


152 



NOTES 


*53 


shawls upon her sofa, with her long black tresses 
streaming over her bent-down head, all attention. 

Now, dear Mr. - has lost a front tooth—not 

quite a front one, but a side front one—and this, 
you see, causes a defective utterance ... an 
amiable indistinctness, a vague softening of syllables 
into each other, so that silence and ilence would 
really sound very like one another. . . There can 

be little doubt that Mr.-was Mr. Kenyon; the 

blank was necessitated by the peculiar delicacy of 
the Victorians with regard to teeth. But more 
important questions affecting English literature are 
involved. Miss Barrett has long been accused of a 
defective ear. Miss Mitford maintains that Mr. 
Kenyon should rather be accused of defective 
teeth. On the other hand, Miss Barrett herself 
maintained that her rhymes had nothing to do 
with his lack of teeth or with her lack of ear. “A 
great deal of attention 55 , she wrote, “—far more 
than it would have taken to rhyme with complete 
accuracy—have I given to the subject of rhymes 
and have determined in cold blood to hazard some 
experiments. 55 Hence she rhymed “angels 55 with 
“candles’ 5 , “heaven 55 with “unbelieving”, and 
“islands” with “silence 55 —in cold blood. It is of 
course for the professors to decide; but anybody 
who has studied Mrs. Browning’s character and 
her actions will be inclined to take the view 
that she was a wilful breaker of rules whether 



154 


FLUSH 


of art or of love, and so to convict her of some 
complicity in the development of modern poetry. 

P. 53. “yellow gloves”. It is recorded in Mrs. 
Orr’s Life of Browning that he wore lemon- 
coloured gloves. Mrs. Bridell-Fox, meeting him in 
1835-6, says, “he was then slim and dark, and very 
handsome, and—may I hint it—-just a trifle of a 
dandy, addicted to lemon-coloured kid gloves and 
such things”. 

P. 71. “He was stolen.” As a matter of fact, Flush 
was stolen three times; but the unities seem to 
require that the three stealings shall be compressed 
into one. The total sum paid by Miss Barrett to the 
dog-stealers was £20. 

P. 912. “The faces of those men were to come back 
to her on a sunny balcony in Italy.” Readers of 
Aurora Leigh —but since such persons are non¬ 
existent it must be explained that Mrs. Browning 
wrote a poem of this name, one of the most 
vivid passages in which (though it suffers from 
distortion natural to an artist who sees the object 
once only from a four-wheeler, with Wilson tugging 
at her skirts) is the description of a London slum. 
Clearly Mrs. Browning possessed a fund of curiosity 
as to human life which was by no means satisfied 
by the busts of Homer and Chaucer on the washing- 
stand in the bedroom. 

P. 109. “Lily Wilson fell in love with Signor 
Righi, the guardsman.” The life of Lily Wilson is 



NOTES 


155 


extremely obscure and thus cries aloud for the 
services of a biographer. No human figure in the 
Browning letters, save the principals, more excites 
our curiosity and baffles it. Her Christian name 
was Lily, her surname Wilson. That is all we know 
of her birth and upbringing. Whether she was the 
daughter of a farmer in the neighbourhood of 
Hope End, and became favourably known to the 
Barrett cook by the decency of her demeanour and 
the cleanliness of her apron, so much so that when 
she came up to the great house on some errand, 
Mrs. Barrett made an excuse to come into the room 
just then and thought so well of her that she ap¬ 
pointed her to be Miss Elizabeth’s maid; or whether 
she was a Cockney; or whether she was from Scot¬ 
land—it is impossible to say. At any rate she was 
in service with Miss Barrett in the year 1846. She 
was “an expensive servant 55 —her wages were £16 
a year. Since she spoke almost as seldom as Flush, 
the outlines of her character are little known; 
and since Miss Barrett never wrote a poem about 
her, her appearance is far less familiar than his. 
Yet it is clear from indications in the letters that 
she was in the beginning one of those demure, 
almost inhumanly correct British maids who were 
at that time the glory of the British basement. It 
is obvious that Wilson was a stickler for rights 
and ceremonies. Wilson undoubtedly revered “the 
room 55 ; Wilson would have been the first to insist 



i 5 6 


FLUSH 


that under servants must eat their pudding in one 
place, upper servants in another. All this is im¬ 
plicit in the remark she made when she beat Flush 
with her hand “because it is right 55 . Such respect 
for convention, it need hardly be said, breeds 
extreme horror of any breach of it; so that when 
Wilson was confronted with the lower orders in 
Manning Street she was far more alarmed, and far 
more certain that the dog-stealers were murderers, 
than Miss Barrett was. At the same time the heroic 
way in which she overcame her terror and went 
with Miss Barrett in the cab shows how deeply the 
other convention of loyalty to her mistress was in¬ 
grained in her. Where Miss Barrett went, Wilson 
must go too. This principle was triumphantly 
demonstrated by her conduct at the time of the 
elopement. Miss Barrett had been doubtful of 
Wilson’s courage; but her doubts were unfounded. 
“Wilson 55 , she wrote — and these were the last 
words she ever wrote to Mr. Browning as Miss 
Barrett—“has been perfect to me. And I . . . calling 
her ‘timid 5 and afraid of her timidity! I begin to 
think that none are so bold as the timid, when 
they are fairly roused. 55 It is worth, parenthetically, 
dwelling for a second on the extreme precarious¬ 
ness of a servant’s life. If Wilson had not gone with 
Miss Barrett, she would have been, as Miss Barrett 
knew, “turned into the street before sunset 55 , with 
only a few shillings, presumably, saved from her 



NOTES 


157 


sixteen pounds a year. And what then would have 
been her fate? Since English fiction in the 'forties 
scarcely deals with the lives of ladies' maids, and 
biography had not then cast its searchlight so low, 
the question must remain a question. But Wilson 
took the plunge. She declared that she would “go 
anywhere in the world with me". She left the base¬ 
ment, the room, the whole of that world of Wimpole 
Street, which to Wilson meant all civilisation, all 
right thinking and decent living, for the wild 
debauchery and irreligion of a foreign land. 
Nothing is more curious than to observe the con¬ 
flict that took place in Italy between Wilson's 
English gentility and her natural passions. She 
derided the Italian Court; she was shocked by 
Italian pictures. But, though “she was struck back 
by the indecency of the Venus", Wilson, greatly 
to her credit, seems to have bethought her that 
women are naked when they take their clothes off. 
Even I myself, she may have thought, am naked 
for two or three seconds daily. And so “She thinks 
she shall try again, and the troublesome modesty 
may subside, who knows?" That it did subside 
rapidly is plain. Soon she not merely approved of 
Italy; she had fallen in love with Signor Righi of 
the Grand Ducal bodyguard—“all highly respect¬ 
able and moral men, and some six feet high"— 
was wearing an engagement ring; was dismissing 
a London suitor; and was learning to speak Italian. 



158 


FLUSH 


Then the clouds descend again; when they lift they 
show us Wilson deserted—“the faithless Righi had 
backed out of his engagement to Wilson”. Suspicion 
attaches to his brother, a wholesale haberdasher 
at Prato. When Righi resigned from the Ducal 
bodyguard, he became, on his brother’s advice, a 
retail haberdasher at Prato. Whether his position 
required a knowledge of haberdashery in his wife, 
whether one of the girls of Prato could supply it, 
it is certain that he did not write to Wilson as often 
as he should have done. But what conduct it was 
on the part of this highly respectable and moral 
man that led Mrs. Browning to exclaim in 1850, 
“[Wilson] is over it completely, which does the 
greatest credit to her good sense and rectitude of 
character. How could she continue to love such a 
man?”—why Righi had shrunk to “such a man” 
in so short a time, it is impossible to say. Deserted 
by Righi, Wilson became more and more attached 
to the Browning family. She discharged not only 
the duties of a lady’s maid, but cooked knead cakes, 
made dresses, and became a devoted nurse to 
Penini, the baby; so that in time the baby himself 
exalted her to the rank of the family, where she 
justly belonged, and refused to call her anything 
but Lily. In 1855 Wilson married Romagnoli, the 
Brownings’ manservant, “a good tender-hearted 
man”; and for some time the two kept house for 
the Brownings. But in 1859 Robert Browning 



NOTES 


159 


“accepted office as Landor’s guardian”, an office 
of great delicacy and responsibility, for Landor’s 
habits were difficult; “of restraint he has not a 
grain”, Mrs. Browning wrote, “and of suspicious¬ 
ness many grains”. In these circumstances Wilson 
was appointed “his duenna” with a salary of 
twenty-two pounds a year “besides what is left of 
his rations”. Later her wages were increased to 
thirty pounds, for to act as duenna to “an old 
lion” who has “the impulses of a tiger”, throws his 
plate out of the window or dashes it on the ground 
if he dislikes his dinner, and suspects servants of 
opening desks, entailed, as Mrs. Browning observed, 
“certain risks, and I for one would rather not meet 
them”. But to Wilson, who had known Mr. Barrett 
and the spirits, a few plates more or less flying out 
of the window or dashed upon the floor was a 
matter of little consequence—such risks were all 
in the day’s work. 

That day, so far as it is still visible to us, was 
certainly a strange one. Whether it began or not 
in some remote English village, it ended in Venice 
in the Palazzo Rezzonico. There at least she was 
still living in the year 1897, a widow, in the house 
of the little boy whom she had nursed and loved— 
Mr. Barrett Browning. A very strange day it had 
been, she may have thought, as she sat in the red 
Venetian sunset, an old woman, dreaming. Her 
friends, married to farm hands, still stumbled up 



i6o 


FLUSH 


the English lanes to fetch a pint of beer. And she 
had eloped with Miss Barrett to Italy; she had seen 
all kinds of queer things—revolutions, guardsmen, 
spirits; Mr. Landor throwing his plate out of the 
window. Then Mrs. Browning had died—there can 
have been no lack of thoughts in Wilson’s old head 
as she sat at the window of the Palazzo Rezzonico 
in the evening. But nothing can be more vain than 
to pretend that we can guess what they were, for 
she was typical of the great army of her kind 
—the inscrutable, the all-but-silent, the all-but- 
invisible servant maids of history. “A more honest, 
true and affectionate heart than Wilson’s cannot 
be found”—her mistress’s words may serve her for 
epitaph. 

P. 125. “he was scourged by fleas”. It appears 
that Italy was famous for its fleas in the middle 
of the nineteenth century. Indeed, they served 
to break down conventions that were otherwise 
insurmountable. For example, when Nathaniel 
Hawthorne went to tea with Miss Bremer in Rome 
(1858), “we spoke of fleas—insects that, in Rome, 
come home to everybody’s business and bosom, 
and are so common and inevitable, that no deli¬ 
cacy is felt about alluding to the sufferings they 
inflict. Poor little Miss Bremer was tormented with 
one while turning out our tea. ...” 

P. 131. “Nero had leapt from a top storey 
window.” Nero (c. 1849-60) was, according to 



NOTES 


161 


Carlyle, “A little Cuban (Maltese? and otherwise 
mongrel) shock, mostly white—a most affectionate, 
lively little dog, otherwise of small merit, and little or 
no training”. Material for a life of him abounds, 
but this is not the occasion to make use of it. It is 
enough to say that he was stolen; that he brought 
Carlyle a cheque to buy a horse with tied round 
his neck; that “twice or thrice I flung him into the 
sea [at Aberdour], which he didn’t at all like 55 ; 
that in 1850 he sprang from the library window, 
and, clearing the area spikes, fell “plash 55 on to the 
pavement. “It was after breakfast, 55 Mrs. Carlyle 
says, “and he had been standing at the open 
window, watching the birds. . . . Lying in my bed, 
I heard thro 5 the deal partition Elizabeth scream: 
Oh Godl oh Nero! and rush downstairs like a 
strong wind out at the street door . . . then I sprang 
to meet her in my night-shift. . . * Mr. C. came 
down from his bedroom with his chin all over soap 
and asked, c Has anything happened to Nero? 5 — 
c Oh, sir, he must have broken all his legs, he leapt 
out at your window! 5 —‘God bless me! 5 said Mr. C. 
and returned to finish his shaving. 55 No bones were 
broken, however, and he survived, to be run over 
by a butcher’s cart, and to die at last from the 
effects of the accident on 1st February i860. He 
is buried at the top of the garden at Cheyne Row 
under a small stone tablet. 

Whether he wished to kill himself, or whether, 



as Mrs. Carlyle insinuates, he was merely jumping 
after birds, might be the occasion for an extremely 
interesting treatise on canine psychology. Some 
hold that Byron’s dog went mad in sympathy with 
Byron; others that Nero was driven to desperate 
melancholy by associating with Mr. Carlyle. The 
whole question of dogs 5 relation to the spirit of the 
age, whether it is possible to call one dog Eliza¬ 
bethan, another Augustan, another Victorian, to¬ 
gether with the influence upon dogs of the poetry 
and philosophy of their masters, deserves a fuller 
discussion than can here be given it. For the 
present, Nero’s motives must remain obscure. 

P. 141. “Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton believed him¬ 
self invisible.” Mrs. Huth Jackson in A Victorian 
Childhood says: “Lord Arthur Russell told me, many 
years later, that when a small boy he was taken to 
Knebworth by his mother. Next morning he was 
in the big hall having breakfast when a strange- 
looking old gentleman in a shabby dressing-gown 
came in and walked slowly round the table staring 
at each of the guests in turn. He heard his mother’s 
neighbour whisper to her, ‘Do not take any notice, 
he thinks he is invisible’. It was Lord Lytton 
himself” (pp. 17-18). 

P. 150. “he was now dead”. It is certain that 
Flush died; but the date and manner of his death 
are unknown. The only reference consists in the 
statement that “Flush lived to a good old age and 



NOTES 


163 


is buried in the vaults of Casa Guidi 55 . Mrs. Brown¬ 
ing was buried in the English Cemetery at Florence, 
Robert Browning in Westminster Abbey. Flush 
still lies, therefore, beneath the house in which, 
once upon a time, the Brownings lived.